What superpower or quirk have you picked up because of your 9-5 gig?
February 7, 2013 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me about the habits and skills you've picked up as a result of your profession. It might be something you don't even notice because it's second nature to you, but others have pointed it out to you, or it could be something you've noticed about others.

As a journalist who's interviewed and tried to get information from tons of people, I've been told that I have a knack for getting people to open up quickly.

Other examples I've gleaned from friends: an improv teacher I know is a skilled persuader, in part because he's skilled at reading dynamics in a scene and gently moving people towards an end goal.
A hairstylist I know tends to develop hair-based personality profiles: she looks at a style, how current it is, presence of hair color/visible roots, estimates daily grooming time, etc., and automatically conjures an idea of how someone sees themselves and how high maintenance they are.
A lawyer friend habitually thinks of the opposing argument for everything and then pokes holes in it, even when it's something mundane. (Not publicly, thank god.) An old pianist friend is understandably neurotic about protecting his hands.

As in the case of the pianist/hands example, it might be something that's obvious in retrospect, but not the glaringly simple "he's a pianist so he likes music" idea that you might immediately think of; I probably never would have thought about it, had I not seen him instinctively cower to protect his money makers on a few occasions. What's a funny thing you've noticed about your architect friend? How might a cop give himself away in everyday life? I want to know. Bring 'em!
posted by blazingunicorn to Work & Money (181 answers total) 187 users marked this as a favorite
I can quickly tell the approximate age and quality of a stained glass window or lamp, and can tell if it was made by a hobbyist, Chinese factory, or skilled tradesman. I can also (usually) tell if it's been repaired or restored. Also little things like the quality or origin of the glass, whether it's art glass or factory-made, and other materials used.

This info isn't from a profession, per se, but years of working at the family glass business.

It hasn't come in handy much except once I was at a friend's house and commented on a stained glass suncatcher. I'd guessed its age and who might have made it (a hobbyist relative) and was correct on both accounts.

I realize this is pretty specific, and more of an obscure skill than a habit...
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:13 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have seen thousands of people ask questions (here and at the library) that appear to them to be asking one question but are actually asking another question. I can sort of model what a group of astute, nitpicky people are likely to see as "the question" in many sorts of requests and can use this to help people ask better questions and also help myself phrase my questions, requests and information needs in ways that help me solve my actual problems.

So people think they're asking a question about a pet and they're really asking a question about their marriage. Or you think you're asking about your marriage but you're really asking about your job. So, I am often good at helping people phrase their questions when they need help from a business, or another person, or a family member, in a way that will make sense to the person they're asking, not necessarily to them. This doesn't always work, I don't understand kids at all for example, but for the sorts of situations I've seen both sides of for the better part of a decade, I've come to learn that it's a skill and not just a thing that everyone can do.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2013 [31 favorites]

I am basically a middleman between busy-busy businesspeople and the underfunded and inscrutable state and county/township governments. I really, really quickly learned that unless I have confirmation in writing and an easy way to contact the person who confirmed the thing (not just "Frank" at the Division of Revenue or whatever) it may as well have not happened. Sometimes I can't get it in writing, so I get ID numbers.

So now, work or home, any time I have to make a call to follow up on something, I always make sure to get ID numbers, case numbers, anything at all. That way, when the people on the other end inevitably fuck something up, they can't say "we don't have a record of your call" because my call record ID number is whatever. Not that I've ran into situations where the person had no idea what this ID number I was giving them was, but if you escalate it enough and have enough data on hand, you can usually get things moving. This is opposed to calling in and having no idea who you spoke to, when you called, what they said they would do, etc.
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

An important habit of mind to develop in computer programming is the ability to look at a piece of code or a design and see what under circumstances it will fail, or act in an unexpected way—since there is generally no way to fix oversights in your code on-the-fly, you have to be able to anticipate strange edge cases in advance.

At least for me, this tendency to look for weaknesses and potential problems in systems and processes definitely leaks into my daily life, where it is often counterproductive (since in other contexts than writing software, usually the processes involve human beings, who can react with flexibility and improvisation and do not necessarily need every possible eventuality spelled out in advance).
posted by enn at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2013 [18 favorites]

Also, I learned that if you sound confident about things (regardless of your actual confidence,) people will be a lot easier to deal with than if you're obviously confused. "It's usually X, Y or Z, but this is a special case, so I'll have to call you back" fosters considerably better relationships than "I guess it might be X or maybe Y or sometimes Z, sort of, kinda." People feel a lot better about dealing with you if you can clearly say "I have no idea, let me find out" than if you offer them half-assed guessing.
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2013 [25 favorites]

From years of working as an organizer (the political kind):

- I can make conversation with almost anyone, although I've noticed that skill atrophying since I'm not an organizer anymore!

- There are several people who think I am super-organized because events I plan are always meticulously thought-out, down to roles and exact times for things. The funny thing is that I am actually really not organized at all, but event-planning is second-nature to me at this point.

From my current career working in advocacy communications (also from my time as an organizer):

- I can break any complicated issue down into a super-simple explanation of problem and proposed solution. Sometimes too simple, but that's another issue.
posted by lunasol at 9:25 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here's something I found years ago on stackoverflow.com. It describes my experiences better than I could:

"I no longer equate thinking I'm right about something with actually beingright about it.

It's now very easy for me to entertain the thought that I may be wrong even when I feel pretty strongly that I'm right. Even if I've been quite forceful about something I believe, I'm able to back down very quickly in the face of contradicting evidence. I have no embarrassment about admitting that I was wrong about something.

That all came from decades of working in a discipline that mercilessly proves you to be mistaken a dozen times a day, but that also requires you to believe you're right if you're going to make any progress at all."

The thread no longer exists, but it's archived here.

In addition to programming, I've done significant amounts of work as a teacher, writer, and theatre director. The main "superpower" all those jobs have endowed me with is an absolute conviction that doing is better than thinking.

When I work with actors, they often ask questions like, do you think I should play this speech fast or slow? Unless we're incredibly pressed for time, my answer is always "Try it fast and then try it slow."

The more sure I am of the answer -- the more sure I am that it would be better slow -- the more likely I am to insist we try it. Because even given my decades of experience, "being sure" isn't worth much. Proof is always in pudding, and it's never anywhere else. The Joker to my Batman is the guy who says, "Why try it? It's obvious the speech will work better slow." And I want to stress that he's still the joker if it's just as obvious to me as it is to him.

Every programmer has worked out algorithms in his head -- and been sure they are correct -- only to have them fail when compiled on an actual computer. Often, this leads to hours of debugging. It's not real until it works. My brilliant teaching idea isn't brilliant until a real student learns from it. My expertly-crafted sentence isn't expert until it's on paper and a reader has been thrilled by it.

It's become second nature for me to get as much as possible out of my head. I make lists, draw charts, try things out. I do much better when I have a physical thing to react to than when abstractions are bouncing around inside my head. And though this might just be "my way," I've found it works well with others. For some reason, people tend to resist it, but once their ideas exist in corporeal form, they almost always seem to find things they missed when those same ideas where trapped inside their heads.
posted by grumblebee at 9:25 AM on February 7, 2013 [76 favorites]

I can tell with complete certainly when people speak with conviction but have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, while the other listeners are completely buying into it.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:30 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I travel constantly for work, often to new places, and so I've developed a good visual memory for geography. As a result, I can look at a map/GPS directions (or listen to the rental car agent's vague instructions) once and remember the route to my destination. If I've been somewhere before I remember it pretty accurately. I can't remember the last time I got lost. Side benefit: I often recognize movie locations and occasionally a place will seem familiar and later I'll discover that it appeared in a film or TV show I've seen.

For work, I often facilitate meetings with up to 100 people and I've developed the knack of remembering all of their names, although I'll forget them as soon as the event ends. Some of these presentations involve lots of numbers I need to memorize, and so now I can do things like rattle off my credit card numbers. I can make a reservation or talk to customer service while driving because I can remember the confirmation or ticket number.
posted by carmicha at 9:32 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a former lifeguard, it's next to impossible for me to stand on a beach or by a pool facing away from the water. Even if I'm talking to somebody, I'd tend to position myself so that I would face the water (and they face the other way). If I'm hanging out with another lifeguard type person we'll both instinctively stand side by side, scanning the water as we talk. So I guess you develop the habit of actively looking for things that could go wrong quickly, even when you're not on duty.
posted by TwoWordReview at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

From being a therapist, I have a pretty good sense of when the behavior I see from someone is related to a "mental illness" as opposed to simply a quirk of their nature or a difficulty of their personality. This saves an immense amount of time and prevents me from getting entangled in situations that are impossible to resolve. Sometimes. (You would be surprised how often otherwise perspicacious people spend time fighting with someone whose mental make-up makes the situation untenable.)
posted by OmieWise at 9:34 AM on February 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

My boyfriend's been in the dental field for over 20 years and cannot not notice someone's teeth. We met a new neighbor a few months back and as soon as she walked away he told me she has dental fluorosis. He can tell if someone just needs their teeth cleaned or has spots from cavities. Every once in a while he spots a weird shadow on my teeth and makes me open wide on the street so he can investigate.
posted by jabes at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to be an executive assistant and got a high when I was able to anticipate my boss's needs. I felt like goddamn Helen Mirren in Gosford Park. I haven't been at that job for a number of years now but I still tend to overprepare just so I am ready for specific, and sometimes odd, situations.
posted by spec80 at 9:42 AM on February 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am really, really good at front-loading useful information in emails. This probably has less to do with my career choice (software engineering) and more to do with my distaste for writing emails. I figure if I put all the useful information in the first email, I can decrease the chances of having to write a second one. This may go back to the start of my career, when I occasionally had to field support requests.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:45 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Years of life drawing and costume drawing mean I have a pretty good idea what people look like naked. And while not job, being on and around sets and movie people (and being a how-it-was-made movie doc fanatic) means I can usually deconstruct how a scene was shot while watching it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:46 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Graphic designer, here. Typefaces. Everywhere. Notice the good, the bad (more often). Learn a new typeface, suddenly I see it all over.

Also, I sometimes walk around with an uncapped X-acto knife like most people would walk around with a pencil or pen. Never cut myself (or anyone else) ... yet! [knocks wood]
posted by mon-ma-tron at 9:46 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and not my story, but my SO's, who spent a large part of his life researching gait and movement and the effect of various conditions on them. He correctly identified someone about to collapse at a restaurant based on watching him across the room go to and from the bathroom. He got him into a car and toward the hospital before he actually passed out.
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 AM on February 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm a computer programmer, and this may sound obvious but I am an insanely fast typist now. I was pretty good before but I am crazy fast now. And I type better and faster when I'm not looking at my hands. And I can type one thing while I'm talking about something else.

I also always have about six different ways every thing going can play out and can come up with a lot of scenarios for how/why something ended up the way it did. I've become extremely good at "being prepared", because in my line of work we basically have to predict how things are going to fail and create checks and backup plans to make sure things don't totally fall apart. I've also become good at problem solving, sometimes creatively, when things DO fall apart.

Sorta unrelated but not, my parents both worked as doctors and their handwriting was (and still is) atrocious. I had to decipher their writing for teachers when I had to bring in a sick note or whatever else my parents may have hand written. As an adult, I can read just about any handwriting without difficulty.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:53 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can put up with a tremendous amount of bullshit. I work in Hollywood.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:54 AM on February 7, 2013 [16 favorites]

As a database manager for nonprofit organizations, I know everyone's names, the CEOs of companies and their spouses, who is connected with what Foundation. It's hyperlocal to my (large) city, but I know who's who by name, and many of those people are nationally known as my city has many corporate HQs here. It baffles people. "Do you know John Rowe?" "Well, no. But I know all about him."
posted by juniperesque at 9:55 AM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

"I can tell with complete certainly when people speak with conviction but have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, while the other listeners are completely buying into it."

What's your occupation?
posted by grumblebee at 9:56 AM on February 7, 2013

"I'm a computer programmer, and this may sound obvious but I am an insanely fast typist now."

Me too, and I never learned the "correct" way to touch-type, so I don't use the fingering you're supposed to use. Still, I can type close to the speed that I think. It's always funny to me when I write a post that takes about three minutes to read out loud, and someone says, "Jesus! How long did it take you to write that?"

About three minutes.

Negative: I used to have good handwriting. It's now almost unreadable. I get frustrated by how long it takes it takes me, and so I try to write as fast as I can type. The result ain't pretty.
posted by grumblebee at 10:00 AM on February 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

(Engineer) I've gotten to a point where, given a technical problem to solve, can make estimates about necessary information and come to within 10% of the correct answer in my head. After awhile, you just get a knack for how much things should weigh, how far they can bend without breaking, and whether you need to be within an order of magnitude or microns of accuracy.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

From adding up scores on exam papers, I'm crazy good at adding a list of moderately-sized integers (around 0 to 20ish). I'm slower and less accurate when adding with a calculator. It's something that happens at a deeper-than-conscious level. If I stop to think about it, I screw up. If I just relax and look at the numbers one by one they seemingly add themselves.

Yay, grad school?
posted by BrashTech at 10:04 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not so much a "superpower", but, I can fairly easily recognize whether something has been designed by a trained and skilled hand, or whether it's the creation of the stereotypical someone armed with a copy of Photoshop and little else. Basically, it's a case of being able to see whether someone cared or not about the little details...things that a good designer would naturally take care of.

Quite honestly, this has become more of a horrible curse as the years pass.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also related to the above skill, I've become really good at asking questions on places like Stack Overflow. Which sounds like it should be easy, but it really isn't. It helps to : define every process that may be unfamiliar to the reader; give clear, unambiguous examples; provide only the relevant code snippets; outline a step-by-step guide to reproducing the problem; and, finally, describe all my attempts to solve the problem. On forums like SO, this is a necessity, as someone may not visit your question a second time and may not see your updates or clarifications. Likewise, engineers often have poor English skills, or even if they're a native speaker, may have bad communication skills.

Unsurprisingly, this has backfired on AskMe, where people are less literal-minded and perhaps a bit more intuitive. What I think of as "clear communication" on SO will often come off as "over-eager" or "obsessive" elsewhere.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:09 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, as a hobbyist pilot, I've gotten really good at identifying aircraft and airports. This is also partly due to all the travel I have to do for work. I can pick out airliner livery from the ground and (usually) determine what aircraft is flying overhead, sometimes without looking. I know a lot of the routes from Logan airport, too, so if I see a four-engine jet with a bird on the tail I know it's a Lufthansa A340 heading towards Frankfurt.

If I'm a passenger traveling for work, I've basically memorized the Massachusetts coastline and give you a tour while we're on final approach. It's also become easy to the point of annoyance to identify airports anywhere in the US, especially at night (look for flashing white-green lights).

I've gotten a little bit better at having an intuitive sense of what the weather will be, but that's still mostly in the realm of black magic.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:10 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pretty much everyone I know who does chemistry for a living (myself and others) has better-than-average spatial reasoning skills. Even if you aren't directly working with crystallography/organic isomers/protein folding, there's enough exposure to those topics that the skill gets honed over time.
posted by kagredon at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

From my former hobby of juggling - I don't drop things. If I do drop things, I catch them. I was cutting up onions in the kitchen and an onion slipped of the counter. Before it hit the floor I bounced it off my foot and caught it in my hand. While doing this the knife slipped off the counter. Without even thinking about it, I caught the knife (by the handle, of course. I've juggled knives and catching the non-pointy end is second nature) and immediately went back to cutting onions. If things tip over when I'm near, I can catch them with either hand and put them back upright. Oddly, I'm still strongly right handed.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2013 [39 favorites]

University administration helped me be more focused on solving problems than being right. Event planning gave me tons of skills that are generally useful in life. Teaching English as a second or other language gave me lots of insight into how to communicate simply. Journalism really helped me become a higher-functioning shy person, and helped me learn how to research and formulate questions. Running a library on weekends helped me learn how to research and answer questions. Cataloging helped me think about the architecture of ideas. Teaching literature made me more enthusiastic about reading. Playing in a 1930s swing band taught me how to be patient with drunk people. Teaching saxophone lessons to children taught me how to be patient with children who are making horrible, horrible sounds. Babysitting taught me that I didn't want to parent.

Those are most of my jobs. The various food and drinks service ones taught me to tip generously, and the various writing-for-hire and publishing ones taught me all sorts of unpleasant lessons about how the literary sausage is made.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Like some of the above, this is less of a "superpower" than a skill that became too automatic to turn off: After some time copy-editing, it became very difficult to read without mentally correcting grammar and punctutation. I knew there was no point getting annoyed with the sign that said "Cherry's" at the farmers' market, but I did.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:19 AM on February 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

I can identify people a quarter mile away by posture and gait and silhouette from years of working in a bunnysuit and not having access any hair color/clothing markers.
posted by janell at 10:29 AM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

This might be an obvious one but I think in a lot of customer service/sales/retail-type jobs, if you are good at your job or do it for a long time, you become very skilled at predicting/anticipating personality types and behaviors based on things like clothing style, body language, voice, etcetera. Basically, high-level stereotyping. It is usually a useful skill, and you find many many many legitimate patterns that are statistically accurate predictors of things like "what this person will be looking for" or "how to act with this person for the best result" or "what level of interaction does this person want, and how can I still get them to do X" (where X is, say: buy product, stop yelling at your new trainee, understand the policy you are trying to explain). You can get used to doing this without thinking, and can almost subconsciously start manipulating people in everyday life. It's also still stereotyping, if more accurate than usual, and can lead to overconfidence and arrogance (you see this more in high-pressure salespeople than ordinary customer service, where work skills leak into everyday life).
posted by celtalitha at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

After working in large format printing, I notice decals/logos/stickers on everything and also displays and signage in stores and storefronts. I impulsively examine the ones that catch my interest and either oooh and ahhh or criticize it.
posted by hannahelastic at 10:46 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who just finished a Ph.D. in science, I feel like I can solve pretty much any problem. Give me any task, and I will find a way to get it done. That is an unusual sort of confidence that comes from having known next to nothing about an extremely difficult topic, then having learned about it, and executed task after difficult task about it, as a result of researching and optimizing the constraints and what had been done before.
posted by htid at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, I forgot my most annoying super-power. I am obsessed with actors who screw up word emphasis. In the theatre, we use the term "operative word" to indicate the word in the sentence that is (or should be) stressed.

Often, this is flexible: "You stole the book," "You stole the book," "You stole the book" and "You stole the book" could all potentially make sense. But in a specific context, some of those readings might be illogical.

For instance, if Bill says, "I borrowed the book," it doesn't make sense for Mary to reply, "You stole the book," as if "book" was a new piece of information. What she should say is "You stole the book."

Most of the time, we emphasize words to connect our current sentences to previous sentences, as in "borrowed" and "stole," above. In that case, the emphasis in the second sentence conveys how that sentence logically relates to the earlier one: Mary is changing what Bill did to the book from "borrowing" to "stealing."

Some actors mistakenly think that emphasis doesn't have context -- that you should just emphasize whatever word sounds most important in the current sentence, as if that sentence was a standalone unit. Others understand that context is important, but they're not good at mining context from dialogue. (They act intuitively and aren't very logical thinkers.)

And once an actor gets a bad operative into his speech patterns, it's devilishly hard to get him to stop, even if you explain the context to the actor and he understands it. Mary's mouth might simply have formed a habit of emphasizing "book."

(People almost never make operative mistakes in normal speech, because they understand what they are saying, why they are saying it, and the context in which they are speaking. This problem only comes up when one person is saying lines written by someone else. Which is why it's a problem: It's a giveaway that the actor doesn't really understand what he's saying, and so it breaks the illusion that he's speaking off-the-cuff.)

As a director, I try to nip this problem in the bud before the error becomes habitual. Over 25 years of listening for bad operative, I have become oversensitive to them. At least once in most movies and TV shows, I hear a bad operative, often delivered by an accomplished actor. It's like fingernails on a blackboard to me. I want to hurl blunt objects at the screen. And don't get me started on audiobooks. I've never heard a single one without operative problems.

For some reason, I hear many more blunders in contemporary films and shows than older ones. Cary Grant and Bette Davis are much better emphasizers than most modern actors, which, perhaps, lends credence to the idea that we're a less verbal culture than we used to be.

Here's are a couple of examples (yes, I write them down):

From "Law and Order":

Lawyer: You told THAT to your pupil?

Witness: MY pupil? He wasn't my pupil. If anything, I was his PUPIL!

The correct emphasis is "MY pupil? He wasn't my pupil. If anything, I was HIS pupil!"

From "American Horror Story":

Jessica Lange: "You're not a man! And you'd better be careful. The last guy who struck me came to a bad end, and he was a MAN!"

It should have been "...and HE was a man" or "... and he WAS a man."

From some movie. I forgot to write down the title:

He: I should feel GOOD about myself!

She: Let's not kid ourselves. This marriage works because you don't feel GOOD about yourself.

It should be "Let's not kid ourselves. This marriage works because you DON'T feel good about yourself."

From "Sliver Linings Notebook":

Jennifer Lawrence in: You say more inappropriate things than appropriate THINGS.

It should be "You say more inappropriate things than APPROPRIATE things."

From an episode of "Friends" in which Matt LeBlanc is in a doctor's waiting room, flirting with some woman:

Matt: What are you here for?

Woman: I talk in my sleep.

Matt: What a coincidence, I listen in my SLEEP.

It should be "What a coincidence: I listen in my sleep." or "What a coincidence, I LISTEN in my sleep."
posted by grumblebee at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2013 [53 favorites]

I can measure the length of something in centimeters, using the spread of the first two fingers of my dominant hand, with extreme accuracy. But only up to ten centimeters.
posted by jesourie at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a teen, I shelved books in a library, and ended up with the entire dewey decimal catalogue in my head. I could find information about anything faster than any person, device, or method (the internet was smaller back then, libraries were where the information was at), and I had mental "sort by..." options that the computers and catalogues could not offer. Actually even that understates it - there was no conscious sorting or seaching, I just knew.
Then at university, the libraries there didn't use the dewey decimal system - my superpower met its kryptonite.
Then after university, the internet was starting to gain enough depth to become a more effective way than libraries to answer most questions.
posted by anonymisc at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Love it! I'm especially loving the specific stories about how skills or habits can "leak into daily life," like dentistry or lifeguarding, and the little things we find quirky in the behavior of others, but these are all really cool.
posted by blazingunicorn at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2013

I am really good at sexing small mammals. Studying very small primates who aren't easily differentiated, the easiest thing to do first is look for testicles or pendulous nipples. Consequently, I've developed a real knack for finding squirrel testicles. People are usually not particularly impressed when I point out "That squirrel is male!" but it makes me happy.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:10 AM on February 7, 2013 [89 favorites]

I used to work in telephone tech support for a specialized industry software suite. For many clients our hotline was the only phone based tech support they had access to, so I had to politely field a lot of calls about issues that were completely unrelated to the specific product I was trained in. As a result, I have the superpower of being able to walk through troubleshooting for pretty much anything, even products/peripherals I've never seen. Now that I no longer work phone support, this is also known as "being a very good daughter."
posted by telegraph at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am told that I "analyze everything". Yes, that's what I do for a profession. I'm a software engineer.
posted by eas98 at 11:13 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a composer/musician:
  • I can tell if someone is a classical guitarist by the nails on their right hand
  • I can tell if someone is a violinist by the presence of an irritated spot on the left side of their neck where the chinrest rubs against them
  • I can identify how a synth sound was constructed with moderate accuracy, or what effects an instrument is being played through
  • I can sing a counter-melody to just about anything
  • I can identify the pitch relationship between the multiple tones that sound in things like sirens, car horns, dialtones, hair clippers, and HVAC hums
As a programmer who works in a heavily statistics-based, machine-learning-focused cheminformatics lab:
  • I can identify when software is using a machine learning process to mold itself to its context of use
  • I can identify the ways the in which a statistic might be misleading (e.g., an average being deceptively high as a result of high-magnitude outliers)
  • I'm familiar with a lot of medications and their indications, as well their common off-label uses, so if I happen to see a bottle of something in someone's bathroom I often know at a glance what it does and why they're taking it
  • I tend to document every small decision I've made in the process of implementing something, because something as small as whether you added 0.001 to a value or subtracted 0.001 from a value can change everything about your results, and although you can usually go find out what you did by digging through your code, it turns out that your scientist boss would really prefer that the answer to his question be at your fingertips
  • I tend to enumerate things to sometimes excessive extent

posted by invitapriore at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

- Oh, I forgot my most annoying super-power. I am obsessed with actors who screw up word emphasis.

- When I work with actors, they often ask questions like, do you think I should play this speech fast or slow? Unless we're incredibly pressed for time, my answer is always "Try it fast and then try it slow."

If I may just tie these two things together, I've been on the receiving end of unedited voice-actor recordings for a video game, it was kind of comical - every line would have several takes and I'd have to pick the one I could best use. And for almost every line, every take would be the actor systematically moving the emphasis to a random different word. So not only were most of the takes of no use right out of the gate, what I really needed was for them to try saying it quickly, and instead they'd just move the emphasis to an even stranger place and keep delivering at the same speed, and a battle could be over before they've finished declaring it's about to start. Sometimes I'd have to use a weird emphasis because it was the least slow. Or I'd create a weird emphasis by cutting out part of the dialogue to get it said quicker. (In defense of the poor actors, getting mostly useless takes like that suggests they were trying to make do with inadequate context/guidance on my team's part)

posted by anonymisc at 11:30 AM on February 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

Related to primalux's point, working in a museum (and, to a lesser extent, in a lab with people from all over the world) I also got really good at speaking English to people with varying degrees of English skills. This was pretty much unconscious and invisible for me at first but I've since realized I do it outside of the work setting (e.g. while travelling in non-English-speaking countries) and on one trip people from multiple countries told me I "speak very good English!" (Which, you know, is lucky, since it is pretty much the only language I speak.)
posted by mskyle at 11:43 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

From working at a history museum:

-I have infinite patience for repeated questions. This was hammered into us during training; someone will ask a seemingly obvious or stupid question, but they ask because they don't know. That knowledge alone helped me be empathetic when the thousandth visitor asked if Henry Ford invented the car.

-Similarly, I'm able to quickly shift trains of thought when interrupted by a question while "bookmarking" a spot to pick up later.

-I am very much at ease speaking in front of large groups of people, and also able to tell someone "I don't know." Lots of thinking on my feet at that job.

From the medical device industry:

-I can often decipher lot numbers on consumer products. Many lots are coded with some combination of year month day, which jump out if you look for them. So that can of soda was made in December. Yay!

-I learned to construct an argument from objective evidence while omitting damning statements. I had to learn to think like an auditor, meaning I have to cross-reference everything and avoid words that would lead to further investigation. It's like being on the witness stand.
posted by Turkey Glue at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

As for the quirks, my event planning hat often goes on when I'm waiting in a line, and I mutter things like "The signage is all wrong and they need different stanchions, and they should have a contact point earlier on..." and then my husband pokes me in the ribs.

But the signage at our wedding was fucking magnificent.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2013 [30 favorites]

Oh, and I can identify the production year of a Ford Model T with pretty good accuracy if anyone needs a car spotter or annoying history friend.
posted by Turkey Glue at 11:56 AM on February 7, 2013

Also, as a result of learning how to start IVs on heroin addicts, I can start an IV on anyone. This bleeds over (heh) into my everyday life because I can never stop assessing people for access. If I've met you in person, rest assured that I know exactly where I'd put a line in you.
posted by jesourie at 11:59 AM on February 7, 2013 [14 favorites]

My first job after college was working for a company that made ID card and photo printers. I always look for the security features (lamination, UV printing, etc.) on a license, mostly to tell if it was made on one of the machines I worked on.
posted by mkb at 11:59 AM on February 7, 2013

A lawyer friend habitually thinks of the opposing argument for everything and then pokes holes in it, even when it's something mundane. (Not publicly, thank god.)

A lawyer coming from a philosophy background, I do this as well. I, unfortunately, cannot keep it to myself. (Well, I can among family and friends.) Among strangers, like tour guides, public speakers, general authority figures -- I simply have to find a mortal weakness in whatever it is they're saying. And I always do find it. And then I have to point it out.

I do not make friends easily.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:02 PM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

Decades ago I worked at an ice cream store, where a small was 3.6 oz and a large was 7.2 oz. I learned how to accurately serve up ice cream in those amounts without using a scale.

I then used this superpower to figure out postage for zines I was mailing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:19 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I find that my best skill from working customer service is knowing which requests are reasonable to make of service people and which are not. While eating in a restaurant, if someone at the table is unhappy, I know whether the problem can be fixed (without great hassle) and if so, how to best ask for it to be done. Some people are mortally afraid of making requests in restaurants.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:28 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being in the apparel business, if I see you, I can pretty much tell your shirt size in the S-2X range, and the correct unisex or women's size if you're female. I'm less good with children and extremely large people because I don't get as much practice.

Part of my job is to do the first line of tech support, and I've learned what questions to ask when someone is having a problem with a PC. It's amazingly difficult to figure out what's really going on from a description. I had someone in my office say "I don't have my e-mail any more" after a system update on his Windows session, and this statement, which might make you think that his e-mail client had stopped working, or that he had lost all e-mail he'd already received, really meant "I can't find my e-mail icon on my desktop any more."

Lastly, being a general manager type in a medium-sized business that relies on a lot of outside support contracts and vendors to do things, I've learned how to get very quickly to a decision on whether to try to do something myself or punt it very quickly, and I've learned not to have ego about that. I see many people lose all sight of time, costs, and risks when attempting to sort something out themselves - everything from a sales rep spending half a day trying to troubleshoot a printer because for some reason he'll feel defeated if he calls me in to an owner trying to decide a complex legal question without calling an attorney. We get that "I wanna do it MYSELF" thing going when we're about 3 years old, and some people never grow out of it.

Related to that, I can even admit when I'm wrong or don't know, which shouldn't be a specialized work super-power, but sometimes seems like it is.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:30 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also because of my lawyering, I can fold legal- or letter-sized paper for an envelope perfectly, just eyeballing it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

As an opposite to It's Never Lurgi, I don't catch knives (or in fact, glasses) after spending a couple years in my teens as a prep chef/kitchen porter (and bar wench) - I've seen what happens with the catch reflex and a sharp knife (or the worst case; the catch reflex and a deep fat fryer...) and now I've pretty much broken it for myself.

But I can peel and chop large amounts of potatoes and other veg extremely quick and accurately portion out food!

As a law librarian, I got very good, very quickly at looking at UK neutral citations and working out which law report it would be in if the case wasn't yet available on the free sources. I also got pretty good at working out what citation a barrister was actually looking for, rather than what they'd given their poor clerks, some times before the clerk gave me the details. Sadly, that's a skill that only works if you work near most of their chambers and hear all the clerk gossip.

As a former IT helpdesk monkey and a current systems librarian, I can generally come up with various scenarios for how changes or new features are going to go down with our users/what we can do to fix or prevent them trying.
posted by halcyonday at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2013

After years and years in technical sales, I have these super-powers:

1. I can tell, just by how you're talking to me on the phone, what you really need, not just what you want.

2. I am VERY persuasive.

3. I can boil down a wall of text into one issue and provide a way of dealing with the issue.

4. I can troubleshoot ANYTHING!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:39 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Knowledge manager and business strategy consultant. I can condense large amounts of information into a really easily-grokked outline. I'm also really, really good at visualizing data.
posted by xingcat at 12:40 PM on February 7, 2013

I used to be a bartender in a multilevel bar. I can tell from the sound of footfalls on the building floor overhead whether people are brawling or dancing. I can tell when a fight's about to break out (in the room I'm in) or if it's just people fooling around, and can usually spot a subtly (meaning, not plastered) drunk person the minute they walk in the door.

This isn't profession related, but when I get bored I count things. One of my favorite things to count is letters, because they're everywhere -- on signs, labels, etc. I do it habitually enough that given any word, I can instantly tell you how many letters are in it.
posted by axiom at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Medical field: Obsessively washing my hands.
posted by floweredfish at 12:57 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Because I was a secretary for a nutty boss many years ago, I can type without looking at either my hands or the computer screen. This comes in handy these days when I'm replying to emails at the library reference desk where I work now--I can keep an eye out for patrons who need me while my hands are typing away. I didn't realize I was still doing it until a coworker pointed it out.
posted by zoetrope at 12:58 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm a criminal lawyer. My annoying superpower is dissecting any information that someone gives me and automatically working out how much weight or reliability to attach to it. And then cross-examining the teller: 'yes, but *how* do you know that'. It's great when I'm in court, not so great when it's my wife telling me that she known what time the store shuts.

Also, but less obtrusively, I've gotten very good at reading and interpreting non-verbal cues to augment what people are telling me verbally.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:00 PM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Sports, news, and event photographers are constantly trying to look three seconds into the future. When something noteworthy happens, you need to already have the scene framed and focused. So you're constantly looking for things that are about to happen. If a quarterback throws a long pass, you need to have your camera on the receiver before the ball gets there. If a politician and a protester have an angry interaction, you need your camera on it before it happens (and before the security arrives). If someone's approaching a group of old friends at a social event, you need your camera on it before they notice him.

It's kinda like the Navigators in Dune, but much more mundane.
posted by echo target at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh! From my days working in and then running clothing boutiques in Manhattan, I was taught to (and later taught others) how to tell just about everything relevant to selling someone clothes from just their shoes.
posted by griphus at 1:08 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to be an IT technician, and apparently my superpower is that computers and other technology items instantly fix themselves as soon as I walk into the room and ask the operator of said item to show me what the problem was.
posted by aheckler at 1:12 PM on February 7, 2013 [30 favorites]

A lawyer coming from a philosophy background, I do this as well. I, unfortunately, cannot keep it to myself. (Well, I can among family and friends.) Among strangers, like tour guides, public speakers, general authority figures -- I simply have to find a mortal weakness in whatever it is they're saying. And I always do find it. And then I have to point it out.

During my last year and a half of college, I got a tutoring job in the on-campus writing center. Learning how to tactfully point out weaknesses in a person's argument was a big part of it. Also, being able to navigate weird turns of phrase without strong reaction. (A girl once came in with a paper about abortion. In it, she discussed the ethical issues surrounding abortion and rape, only she was unaware that the noun for a person who rapes was "rapist", and not "raper", which autocorrect had rounded off to "rapper", such that her paper included a sentence about why a woman would not want to keep a rapper's baby.)

Also, being able to speak near-continuously over a 4-hour shift (we were encouraged to read the student's papers aloud with them.) Harder than it sounds, especially if I didn't remember to grab a bottle of water beforehand.
posted by kagredon at 1:23 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I probably take for granted the following tendencies after 15 years of software development and IT system management:

- I don't get anxiety if things around me seem broken because I spend all day converting broken software into more reliable systems. Being at ease with disrepair sometimes among others creates friction because I don't let it raise my blood pressure. Sometimes this is interpreted as not caring, whereas I just find the emotional response a distraction.
- I do a lot of online research to solve problems and know how to type a useful query into a search engine. I also know how to quickly pin down the likely relevant results. When I watch other people search online I seriously don't know how they function.
- Similar to some statements about lawyers mentally crafting the counter point in their head, I construct venn diagrams from what people say. If you say "x always does y" I know that it only takes one exception to make this false, but out of politeness I don't take hyperbole as a challenge to "win" the discussion. No small amount of pain in software development is attributed to clients and stakeholders who say "always" or "never" when they really mean that they don't know their subject well enough to articulate the 1% exception to the rule.
- I type fast, in such a way that obscure characters on the keyboard are easy to find because I'm typing stuff like $_foo9 =~ @$bar.

Interesting question to raise. Let's have a follow up about stuff that you know you suck at because you get hyper specialized in your career. I'll have a longer list. :)
posted by dgran at 1:26 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to be an IT technician, and apparently my superpower is that computers and other technology items instantly fix themselves as soon as I walk into the room and ask the operator of said item to show me what the problem was.

I have this too. A story about it: My friend, in high school, was having trouble and asked me to come help. The issue? Wouldn't turn on. Yes, plugged in. Outlet's working. So I go over to see what's up, power supply, bad switch, whatever. He pushes the power button on the machine - nothing happens. "Cool," I say. "I'll see what I can figure out." I push the button.

The machine boots. He is flabbergasted. We shut it down to try again. He pushes the button.


I push it. Machine boots correctly again.

We did this easily, 6 times and each time the machine worked normally for me, but not for him.
posted by mrgoat at 1:35 PM on February 7, 2013 [29 favorites]

Creating virtual buildings as a level designer and seeing them from every possible angle has given me the useless ability to recognize sets re-used from one production to another
posted by MangyCarface at 1:36 PM on February 7, 2013

Not from my 9-5 job, but from my biggest hobby (doing cleanup work on Wikipedia): I can spot copy-pasted text (usually plagiarism/copyright violation) at a glance. Don't need to do a Google search (except to confirm); I can pretty much tell you (within a given style domain) after reading two sentences if what I'm reading is original work. Sometimes less than that, if the formatting comes into play.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 1:38 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

visual effects artist - I'm really good at colour matching, like, I can look at different colours and tell just what needs to be added or taken away to make them match. I took a bunch of fine arts courses at university and painted a lot before starting my digital career, so I had a really good grounding in colour theory from the get-go, and that lets me do colour correction really quickly. This bleeds over into putting tiogether an outfit, and interior decorating. I also can tell if a movie was well-written because if the story is compelling, I'll totally fail to notice the visual effects.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:56 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm a set and prop designer. I have a very good visual/spatial memory. That house I went to for dinner once, three years ago? I can describe the layout, the decor, and tell you where everyone sat at the table.
I can look at a wall and tell you how it was painted. This is somewhat irritating in "fun" chain restaurants, because they are very designed places, and I tend to spend most of the meal staring at various walls, working out the steps in painting them, and not speaking to whoever I am eating with.
Given a quality paintbrush, I can also paint a room with blazing speed.
posted by Adridne at 1:58 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I spent six years in the writers' room of a TV comedy show.

The average comedy writer has the darkest sense of humor you can possibly imagine. There was absolutely nothing that was off-limits for discussion, even over lunch.

As a result, there is now no combination of words in the English language that can disturb me or make me lose my appetite.
posted by yankeefog at 2:08 PM on February 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

When I was still at school I used to work in a restaurant and had to peel a laundry basket full of carrots per shift. Needless to say I peel carrots faster than anybody else I know.

I am now in a role at work where I have to do a fair amount of project management as well as making decisions all the time. As a result I get very impatient with friends/family/mates who cannot come up with a plan, make decisions or implement them. Same goes for people who discuss every philosophical aspect of a topic when I'd much rather just resolve the problem and get on with things.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:35 PM on February 7, 2013

From being a fishmonger, I can weigh things accurately by holding them.

From being an ambulance dispatcher, I can tell you the shortest and least-likely-to-be-congested route between two points anywhere in the region at a given time of day. I can also identify the origin and destination of medical helicopters according to their flightpath... which isn't really useful, but interests me anyway. Also etched into my brain are the telephone extensions for every floor and department of eight hospitals and six nursing homes as well as the contact information of a couple dozen ambulance companies and the cost of their services depending upon insurance, equipment needs, and mileage. And I can communicate comfortably and effectively with hospital staff of all sorts. None of which is a superpower, but people find my advice touching on those topics to be helpful.
posted by notquitemaryann at 2:41 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

- as a former bike race official and longtime occasional coach, I can ID cyclists I'm mildly familiar with, from (so I've been told) astonishing distances simply by a function of their form, posture, and possibly their kit characteristics. I can often ID by first name any one of hundreds of "medium to tall, dark-haired, clean-shaven, skinny Caucasian males" in our region by glancing at a combo of their kit and the make of the bike they're sitting on. I can usually diagnose general fit problems and biomechanical issues by watching them ride in front of me for about thirty seconds.

- as someone who was formerly a high level equestrian athlete who lived on a working horse breeding farm, I can usually tell equine breeds at a glance, can ID specific horses by "face" (their faces are as unique as any human's) and generally cringe at the quality (or lack thereof) of horsemanship in any given movie involving such.

- as someone who deals at length with legal, technical and regulatory types day in and day out, I've learned that, going into any sort of potentially thorny negotiation (invoicing errors, product complaints, late shipments, etc.) it's wise to adopt a neutral tone and assume the best of whomever you're dealing with, because their job is just as important as yours, and 99 times out of 100 they're just as invested in getting shit right and avoiding a hassle as you are. So even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are an incompetent jackass, to insinuate such and piss off some minor administrative functionary is to be forever after doomed to the hell of voice mail and getting stuck on hold.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am currently a picture framer. I have great spatial sense: I can tell you if a desk will fit in the space you've made for it without measuring, and give a good estimate of how many inches will be left over. I can essentially measure, visualize, and rotate a 3D object in my head with total ease. I can spot standard and metric picture sizes and rarely measure except to confirm, to an accuracy of an eighth of an inch. This has applications in furniture shopping and determining if something will fit in the car, how many grocery bags we need, etc. I already had a really good visual memory/spatial sense, but it's now nearing epic proportions.

I can also go to a random place and tell you where they got their frames, where they got their prints, whether it's custom or home-made, and diagnose issues with the art (fading, foxing, etc.) I also do this when watching movies or TV. I am aware that this is extremely irritating. For a time I also collected vintage fountain pens, so I'm equally irritating when I shout "Anachronism!" at a Waterman Phileas making a cameo in a film set in 1930. Or when I wonder aloud why, if they had the budget for a Monblanc, did it have to be one from 1999 rather than something appropriate to the period.

My current job is also retail, so I'm pretty good at guessing what the actual question someone is asking is and what the response they're expecting is...my chosen field is librarianship, so I'm glad to see that's transferable.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:46 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked as a bus tour guide. I developed the ability to say things are on the left or right while pointing with the opposite hand to usual, without thinking about it (because I was facing the tourists on the bus, so was pointing to their left and right, not mine).
posted by penguin pie at 2:56 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

One that comes immediately to mind: after many years of teaching, then more recently lecturing and running workshops and things like that, all for audiences who speak English as a second language, I am told often (though I don't notice it consciously) that when I switch into that mode, I speak extremely clearly, and automatically leave out idiom and avoid contractions and generally structure my sentences so they can be more easily understood. Literally dozens of people have told me that while they generally have varying levels of difficulty following spoken English, they can understand what I say without much effort.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:02 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sports, news, and event photographers are constantly trying to look three seconds into the future. yeah any successful mass start bicycle racer has that capability; in coaching we call it "seeing beyond the event horizon". You either learn that skill quickly, or you lose a lot of skin and break a lot of expensive stuff and give up out of fear/frustration. Even as a spectator these days (I've been bike racing for nearly thirty years) I can almost always tell a crash is going to happen about 3-5 seconds before it does (if not longer), and usually who or what the instigator will be.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

From working in kitchens and retail I have a very strong sense of where I am in relation to objects and people around me, this can seem mildly spooky to people as I zoom around them without looking at them. This extends to having a very strong sense of velocity and direction and having a good mental model of my surroundings.

I can read facial expressions, tone of voice and posture and adjust my responses to people to maximize agreement, also from retail. Most people have no idea how I feel about them unless I want them to know, strong retail poker face. I can keep up a constant flow of mostly coherent words while thinking about something else (I actually think this a kind of timesharing where I switch from assembling sentences and trying to pull things from memory very quickly).

I also copy edit all text in my line of sight at all times, from my time in publishing, which can be annoying but means that I can often extract and process information quickly because I've already read all the given text on, in and by an object.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a hotel concierge:
so I can draw you an interesting walking route to your destination, on a map of downtown Toronto, upside down (so you could read it while I drew it for you).

I am an actor:
so I can tell if you're nervous, even if you hide it pretty well. I can hear the shallowness or constriction in your breathing, and see the tension in the set of your shoulders, and I'll notice the amount you're "floating" off your seat or the floor (nervous people sort of "hover").
I can also tell if this is the first time you've said what you're saying, or if you've said it a few times before. Because when you improvise, you "discover" the content and emotion of what you're saying, and it surprises you a little. Those discoveries are noticeable in your voice and face. On the other hand, if you've said it before, you're not discovering it, so it sounds a bit canned. Good actors "make discoveries" as they deliver their lines.
Also, I can see your impulses- for instance, if you had a moment of wanting to say or do something, and then quickly changed your mind- that verbal or physical impulse shows very clearly to me, even if it's fleeting. Finding and honouring impulses freely is what makes great acting great.

Finally, I have curly hair:
so I can tell at a glance if your curly hairstyle is actually curly, or just curled.

Real curls are irregular, with different diameters and varying amounts of spirally-ness, and they're not super-shiny. Plus, the hair growing from the edges of the scalp tends to be straighter than the hair at the crown, so you'll see some straighter, silkier bits poking out at the bottom. And there will always be some frizz around the edges, because the hairs that are less curly will stick out.

And real curls aren't perfect spirals like telephone cords- they usually double back on themselves a few times somewhere in there, so the spiral will kind of reverse direction or skip a loop. Fake curls made around a curling iron don't do that.

Real curls on Nicole, Julia, Minnie, Sarah Jessica.

Fake, curled curls are all the same diameter, very shiny, and not very frizzy. All the longer edge bits will have been curled back into the overall mass, as well.
Fake curls on Nicole, Julia, Minnie, Sarah Jessica.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:08 PM on February 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

I can tell at a glance if the books in the background of a movie are appropriate to the period in which it's set, or if they cheaped out and got a bunch of Reader's Digest Condensed Books to fill space on the shelves. Obsolete law books are the second most popular filler, and equally distinctive.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:13 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Working with both very rich and very poor people has taught me to accept the reality of other people's problems from their perspective. People's issues are real and relevant to them in the context of their lives. No matter how trivial or severe I may think their problems are, my judgement/condescension/pity won't help either of us.
posted by Ndwright at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2013 [19 favorites]

I observe children and assess and marvel in their developmental levels and abilities (my own kids, their friends, at the playground, at the school, etc). It's a habit I'm desperately trying to erase. It's just so interesting!

My SO constantly Creative Directs all art projects in our family. He can't help it.
posted by mamabear at 3:33 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm a scientist who works on spiders and other arachnids. I am extremely observant of small (i.e. physically small) things, but not of large things. For example, when driving I often notice the bird/ lizard/ spider web on the side of the road, but not the giant billboard. Obviously this is extremely handy when I'm out in the field hunting small, cryptic invertebrates, but it is a mixed blessing in day-to-day life. The fact that I work on small animals under a microscope (which are difficult to manipulate) also means that I am extremely patient when completing any challenging task. If something doesn't work the first time, I rarely get frustrated but just start over again using a different approach. This is a characteristic I've developed since working in science - I certainly haven't always been that way.

As a student I worked in a bookshop: now my bookshelves at home are ridiculously neat and well organised.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 3:35 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just today I watched the counter-guy at our local postal store guess the postage on my envelope of legal documents to within twenty cents just by weighing it in his hand. He seemed honestly shocked he hadn't hit it on the nose.

In my own life, I can pretty much instantly visualize the time it takes to do anything, from one hour to several months, including buffer time and error checking. I mean visualize it, like I see the units of time spread out over a day planner or calendar. I'm a software project manager. I can also immediately stand up and walk directly to the bathroom in any building, even if I've never been there before, but that's because I have a small bladder and end up in the bathroom a lot.
posted by ga$money at 3:48 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not a skill as such or superpower, more just habits formed through the job. I'm an analytical chemist so I can weigh things very quickly and accurately (weighing up to 160 samples a day to a weight of 2g plus or minus 0.0005g for over a year tends to do that). I also have a tendancy to initial any mistakes I cross out. When I was doing a test that had a quality control stored in the same type of bottle that milk comes in I found myself automatically shaking my milk.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Working in a butcher: Got very good at guessing weights up to 2kg with my hands. Also many retails jobs have left me (a person with generally crap maths skills) very fast at calculating change.

After school care: Quite good at telling when children are fake crying (pro-tip: shuddery breathing [though the good ones know to fake this], and runny nose. A fake cryer never gets a runny nose from crying).
posted by smoke at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2013

From working in a lab for many years: I could predict when my timer was about to go off. This included short times (2 min) and longer times (4 hours). Sadly I am horrendous about knowing what time it is without looking at a clock or watch.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love all of these!! Please write more! I'm also glad that we have finally identified MeFi's resident squirrel testicle expert.

Another one: I used to edit a newspaper's book review section and still write reviews on occasion. Because of my experience noting who is publishing what, I habitually look at the spine of a book to check the imprint/publishing company, since each imprint has a unique aesthetic and reputation. Ergo, I am prone to judging a book before I even look at its cover.
posted by blazingunicorn at 5:14 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I drove a bus in college. I'm still very good at keeping an eye on the road all around me, and knowing if someone is coming up on my right, etc.

I have great color sense. I can buy matching pillows to go with your rug without having to take a sample or picture with me. I can also tell WHY the color is off, such as having too much gray in it. The Munsell color system is really very cool that way :)

Also a fast typist who doesn't need to look at the keyboard or the screen when I type.

I'm also very efficient with my tasks, to the point that I know it's best to store the dishwasher detergent with the spout facing out. That's because the dishwasher is to the right of the sink, so I can grab the detergent box with my left hand, put it in my right, and open the spout with my left, then pour with my right, without having to spin the box around to the right orientation.
posted by wwartorff at 5:27 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm good at herding people. I'm a high school teacher.

For example, a couple of years ago my husband and I were taking the bus to the ferry terminal. The bus was running late, by the time we got lined up to get tickets there was only 10 minutes until the ferry left. The ticket agent came out and explained that the Nanaimo ferry was leaving in 10 minutes and could folks not going to Nanaimo let the passengers waiting for Nanaimo go to the front of the line. As soon as she made this announcement everyone from the back of the line surged to the front, even in front of people who were also going to Nanaimo. I put my teacher voice on and told everyone that those of us at the front of the line were also going to Nanaimo and that they did not get to jump ahead of us too. Everyone sheepishly got back into line without budging in front of others.

My skills also come in handy when taking family photos and when asking your neighbours to turn the music down at 3:30 AM.
posted by sadtomato at 5:30 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can now catch myself misreading things in real-time. Maybe not much of a superpower, but it makes for some good fodder for Twitter. The back story: I'm a copy editor, so the whole point of my job is to read what's actually there, rather than what I think is there or what I want to be there or what is semantically linked to what's there. So the reading itself has to be accurate, meaning part of what I have to do to be good at my job is to sort of observe myself, monitor myself in real-time, as I'm reading, to make sure I'm catching the mistakes my own brain is making as I'm trying to catch the mistakes that are actually on-screen. Granted, I started out pretty painfully self-aware, but this kind of takes it to a whole new level. I can now observe myself, in this kind of internally-slowed-down mental process, misreading something, then mentally correcting my own error as I read on.

From January 23, for instance, as I was reading this very site:

Misread Ask MetaFilter question: "I've got maybe a day to kill my wife and kid in Baltimore..." That would be WITH my wife and kid.

A few more from the past few months:

Misread: "I can taste angel"—that would be anger, and clearly my eyes aren't working today.

Misread: "10 Decadent Deaths"—that would be desserts.

Misread: "Reality Group"—it was a press release from a REALTY group. Though someday I could see "reality broker" actually being a job title.

Misread: "All-Natural Children's Nightmare Cough Products"—that would be "nighttime."

Misread: "Why does this happen: huge sized pictures with testicle images?" That would be "terrible image quality," not "testicle images."

Misread: "I need a cheap tattoo that runs Windows 7." That would be "laptop," at least in this decade.

Misread: "Where can I buy a good pencil sharpener in the Boston area?" I'm so square. The question was actually about KNIFE sharpeners.

Misread: "FAKE Awards Call For Entries!" That would be FAME Awards—but it's all the same, isn't it?

Misread: "Dierbergs in Des Peres features full liquor license, escalator for cats: SLIDESHOW." Sadly, it's an escalator for carts, not cats.

Misread: "Cupcake Station Lofts," as opposed to Cupples Station Lofts. The former should exist.

Misread after an email re: population growth: "CNN has launched Midwives, a new blog to showcase its audio journalism." A.k.a. "Soundwaves."

Misread: "You're Invited to a FREE Financial SCAM Demo." The actual word in all-caps was SCAN—much less interesting.

Misread: "Woman's 911 call by dog nets $100 fine"—I thought the DOG called 911! Real subject line: "Woman's 911 call for dog nets $100 fine"
posted by limeonaire at 5:34 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

20 years in a medical specialty that has a largely older population (65+): I can tell when someone is hard of hearing by their body language (or on the phone by the way they answer the phone). I can tell when someone is scared (and acting out because of it) vs. being an actual jerk. I'm told I have a lot of patience with people who just don't understand what is going on, and I can take complex diagnoses or procedures and explain them with easy-to-understand metaphors.

Out in the world, I'm closer to my Grandparents than anyone else in the family. I don't get upset if I'm behind a slow driver (although I do get mad at people who terrorize older drivers). In general, I don't let much bother me- old people have taught me that life keeps on happening, whether I worry about it or not.
posted by dogmom at 5:36 PM on February 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a librarian by trade, and I can often recognize a book from my daughter's vague description ("We read a book about liking ourselves" "Oh, was it by Nancy Carlson?"). I can also find books even when I can't remember the author or the Dewey number -- I just know where it should be in the library (even if it's a different library, because I can generally feel out where it should be). I don't know if which came first, but I also know where things are in my house -- not just where things are stored, but where my husband set down a book or my daughter left her shirt. I often know even at other people's houses, where stuff got set down.

My step-dad's was a parole officer and he said that his clients and their associates always knew he was a parole officer, often by unmarked car alone, before he got out of the car. So people who get in trouble with the law enough recognize police and parole officers, even plain clothed. My step-dad also had a talent for finding people. He often had to work hard to track down his clients and would manage to catch up to them in parks or cafes, rather than their homes sometimes.

My step-mom worked at a soup kitchen and learned people's names really quickly -- if someone came more than twice she knew their name even if it'd been awhile since they'd visited. She still learns new people's names incredibly quickly. (She came to a performance of my daughter's gymnastics and by halfway through, knew all the children's names, something I didn't know after several months.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:11 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to work in grad school admissions advising. During that period and for a while afterward, I could tell you what the median LSAT scores were for all accredited law schools.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:17 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm pretty good at telling a fair price on a property by just eyeballing the area and location. The old adage; location, location, location is everything and I'm no fun to have over at your house since I'm mentally trying to figure out what you paid vs the tax assessed value.

The other thing I've become good at esp since I'm always trying to come under my work budget is figuring out how to fix the the unfixable and live with it for another year. I work in in the public sector where everything is under scrutiny esp.by journalists and I can decide that that crappy chair might just be okay with duct tape.
posted by lasamana at 6:42 PM on February 7, 2013

Because I am a teacher at a school with a strict anti-gum policy, I am very good at spotting people chewing gum, even if they're trying to hide it. Sometimes I find myself wanting to tell my friends or random adults to spit out their gum.
posted by kayram at 6:48 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Graphic designer, here. Typefaces. Everywhere. Notice the good, the bad (more often). Learn a new typeface, suddenly I see it all over.

Somewhat along these lines, immediately after we ship a magazine, I see bad kerning/tracking/leading everywhere. I remember going out to one of my favorite local Mexican places after one ship day and being unable to stop mentally moving the type around. The day after this most recent ship, I was in the elevator and noticed issues with the font spacing on the instructions in case of fire.

my parents both worked as doctors and their handwriting was (and still is) atrocious. I had to decipher their writing for teachers when I had to bring in a sick note or whatever else my parents may have hand written. As an adult, I can read just about any handwriting without difficulty.

I could never read my mother's handwriting growing up—it was just this insanely dense, loopy cursive. But after deciphering other editors' tiny scrawlings on deadline for more than 10 years, I can read hers with ease.
posted by limeonaire at 7:08 PM on February 7, 2013

Oh, and, reading some more:

Journalism really helped me become a higher-functioning shy person, and helped me learn how to research and formulate questions.

This is another of my supposed superpowers, I guess: I've become a very good asker of questions. A subset of that: I've become very good at "talking" to search engines to get the answers I want.

Like some of the above, this is less of a "superpower" than a skill that became too automatic to turn off: After some time copy-editing, it became very difficult to read without mentally correcting grammar and punctutation. I knew there was no point getting annoyed with the sign that said "Cherry's" at the farmers' market, but I did.

The Zen superpower level of this is when you learn to notice it but move your mind past it, to let it wash past you but not affect you, when you're in public or reading your favorite website. Because errors are everywhere.
posted by limeonaire at 7:19 PM on February 7, 2013

I can answer any goddamn question anyone ever has about government insurance for the (generally) elderly & disabled population in the United States*, even if they're using incorrect terms, in both English and Spanish, without actually seeing any letter, pamphlet or notice they received. This includes billing and I could often pinpoint exactly why someone's claim got denied, although I wasn't allowed to share that information.

(*intentionally not using the name.)

I can explain my answers to your question at least five different ways. I can tell you the most common mistakes made with this kind of insurance and the parts that will take less time than you think and the parts that will take far, far more time than you think. I can cite everything I say, and tell you what is generally covered if a doctor declares it needed (often using webpages even experienced internet users may not find, because the actual database is hidden 95 links in).

I can find the best plan for medications in anyone's area with any list of medications and preferred pharmacies. I can tell you what state help you might qualify for, what terms are generally used for that kind of help, and adjust for the states that use different names. (California, I'm glaring west right now.)

If that's not enough, I can tell you the best places to go to get more information, if you need someone to literally walk you through any part of the process to resolve the question in person. (They're probably not as informed as me, truthfully.)

However, I refuse to use this superpower because jesus christ, I'm not getting paid for it anymore and it's so complicated it may make my head explode. Plus, FSM forbid I ever get anything wrong.
posted by saveyoursanity at 7:25 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a part-time 35mm projectionist at my university. I have trouble watching traditional 35mm films now, because I see all of the cue marks, even if I'm not looking for them. It's distracting, and I get a little shot of adrenaline every time I see one, because I should be in the booth right now! I need to do the changeover right now!
posted by topoisomerase at 7:33 PM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Professional side: I am a software guy. Design it, write it, etc. Mostly, I'm a geek. I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands, I lost count a long time ago) of programmers. The "power" I have is telling what kind of programmer a person is, given a sufficient (relatively short) interview period. In extreme cases, it only takes moments. I can give strengths, weaknesses, culture fit, and likely tenure at a job, regardless of technological background. I can also tell whether or not I have enough of a "read" to give those things. When I've been sure, so far (knock on wood!) I have yet to be wrong.

Personal side: I grew up with a bi-polar mother and was married for a long time to a bi-polar wife (I am now alone). I can now almost immediately tell if a person is coming from an emotional place or a rational place when they speak to me. Tears have no effect on me. I am (nearly) immune to attempts to de-rail a discussion/argument. It is very, very difficult to upset me with anything short of physical violence, and sometimes not even then. My bullshit detector is in top form. In a work or public setting, this makes me the guy who calmly comes up with the next thing to do in the midst of chaos, usually before other people have even had a chance to process.

These two sides may, or may not, be related. Unfortunately, as super-powers go, their use is very narrow.
posted by Lafe at 7:46 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was an interpreter and manager at a history museum. I can always tell if I'm boring someone and need to switch topics, or if they'd rather be somewhere else.

In other words, I have become an expert at reading non-verbal cues. Voice pitch, way their bodies are positioned compared to me and to the room, what are they looking at, posture, etc. I can anticipate and fulfill needs by seeing what people aren't saying.

It was also a living history museum, which left me with many useful domestic skills that are now undergoing a hipster Renaissance.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 7:53 PM on February 7, 2013

I'm also a journalist, and I can tell immediately if someone is telling me a story they've told before. (Part of this comes from listening to people who've had "media training" dutifully recite talking points.) This translates into being able to tell when anyone goes off-script in any way — handy in regular life, less fun at the theater. That feeling of "oh, I bet he usually says 'that' instead of 'which' right there, and he flubbed it tonight," is actually kind of a bummer.
posted by Charity Garfein at 7:59 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Research and evaluating sources. Checking sources. I get annoyed when family and friends didn't even think to check the fine print, or the details.


I can usually tell when a room full of kids has tipped from 'creative chaos' to 'someone is going to lose an eye' within a few seconds.

(ex-children's librarian)

I can tell when a teenager is actually disinterested or simply saving face.

(ex-young people's librarian)
posted by geek anachronism at 8:53 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can hear dead programmers.

After umpty-ump years working on a variety of applications in different fields, I have found that I can look at ancient code and enter the minds of those that came before me. I can reconstruct the thoughts of why they did this or that, like an archeologist studying potsherds or bone fragments.

Really, maintaining old code is like mind-reading or, perhaps, like a seance.

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?
posted by SPrintF at 9:08 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

As a former floor trader, I can pick out and listen to a specific conversation in a loud and busy room. I can also focus while people around me are screaming and bumping into me. I am also great at removing emotion from an analytical decision although ex wife thinks that makes me cold.

I can add 1/16ths, 1/8ths, 1/4s, 1/2s and convert them to decimals without thinking. Want the price of that box or butterfly based on last sale or bid or ask of midpoint, I can tell you instantly. I can't always tell you the reward of any situation, but I can tell you the risk. It is at times annoying to me internally because whether it is crossing the street, negotiating a purchase or meeting a new person, I am constantly looking for what is the risk of this situation and how would I react if the worse case came true. (Always know your exit door whether it is in a movie theater, plane or where you are going to liquidate a trade gone bad.)

I also learned more ways to say fuck you during my trading career than I knew possible. As part of that, I can also argue with you, take $2,000 from you in a trade or give you $2,000 in a trade and buy you a beer two minutes later. I rarely, if ever, take anything anyone says to me personally. I am also pretty good at bookmaking odds. I will give an over/under on an event happening or a ratio spread of odds of an event happening. I have bet and won on some pretty esoteric events such as what color shoe the next person who walks around a corner will be wearing.

I think from going to general admission Dead concerts and being up front as well as being on the floor with large open positions in stocks and options, I learned to hold my pee for incredible amounts of time.

Oh, as a fraternity boy, I learned to chug beer from a can without a carburator/hole added or anything other than the pull top opening. I learned to live with extreme amounts of carbonation while chugging. I have learned other stupid things as a fraternity boy, but have not had the opportunity to implement them since, but if I saw a group of people talking about throwing a flaming couch out of a third floor window, I would advise them to clear the landing area and measure the size of the window opening in relation to the shape and size of the couch before lighting the couch on fire.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

Working as a hardware engineer and having to constantly think in parallel has led to me being obsessive about the timing of my day-to-day activities, and about how to arrange them so as to minimize gating events and waste.

E.g. when leaving the parkade in the morning, the first thing I do is reach for the button to open the garage door. I then to proceed to start the car, and put on my seatbelt, gloves, etc. and by the time the door is actually open I am completely ready to go and the gate doesn't gate me in the slightest. I find it rather confusing when I see someone who is in a clearly big hurry running to their car, screeching out of their parking spot, but only opening the garage door at the very end and then sitting idle at the gate for several long, long seconds before tearing off again.

This is also present when I grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen: put the cup in the coffee machine first, because that takes the longest. Then I fill my thermos with hot water / grab a tea bag, because by the time I'm done with that my coffee will be ready (yes, I often have coffee and tea on the go simultaneously). However, if I also need to visit the washroom then I start the coffee machine last because then it will be running while I'm out of the kitchen, and the coffee dispenser / sink / fridge etc are arranged to make it more efficient to get my tea before my coffee.

This 'power' also causes me to get annoyed with my wife when she tries to rush me when we're going somewhere. "Why are you bothering to hurry me so much when you're still the last one out the door? It's not like me going faster now will make us arrive any faster." Or "Can you please let me use the washroom? I've done everything else and you are gating my progress!"

Sometimes I wonder what she sees in me.

Oh, I also always fold my socks last when it's laundry day, because that way when you're trying to match them up you don't have to sort through a huge pile of mostly-not-socks and the whole thing is less work overall. But of course that's a separate 'super-power' that's really more about thinking about ways to make processes more efficient than it is about the scheduling of multiple gating events.
posted by Arandia at 9:13 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ex-pianist = excellent typist.
posted by walla at 9:25 PM on February 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm a doctor.

I spend most of the day in a lab coat and carry several pens in my left breast pocket. Whenever I'm out in public and have to sign something, like in a bank, I instinctively grab my left breast. People have given me some funny looks I tell ya.

From years of tutoring, I can write upside down, and have a talent for explaining things. This has served me tremendously at the hospital. It seems half my day is spent explaining things to people.

Also, people often comment how neat my handwriting is, for a doc. This comes from tutoring students in a foreign language back in the nineties when I used a whiteboard a lot so had to make sure my handwriting was very legible.

Also from tutoring: I'm good at entertaining/engaging kids of any age, and getting their attention.

From being an aunt and family babysitter: I always have some interesting stuff in my purse. Not necessarily toys, but things such as a flashlight, crayons, extra drawing paper, minipuzzles, scissors and such.

What a fun question.
posted by M. at 9:26 PM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I worked in fast food at KFC, I learned how to butcher a whole chicken into all the neat pieces (breast, thigh, drumstick, wing, etc) extremely neatly and fast. I still find that super easy and it amazes me that other people don't.
posted by lollusc at 9:46 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My last three jobs have been at a vet clinic, a dog daycare, and a petstore. I can identify with 99% accuracy the breed and approx age of any dog I see.
posted by internet!Hannah at 9:54 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've known USPS window clerks who could hold an envelope or parcel and estimate weight to within a half ounce of accuracy. Mechanics identify bolt and nut sizes automatically. I know a union Journeyman carpenter (female) who, if given the dimensions of a building, can with a few minutes of thought dictate a complete list of the hundreds of scaffolding parts and pieces necessary for construction.

In my work we used to refer to "calibrating the ocular instrument" for the ability to eyeball a tree and be able to tell both height and diameter. From firefighting I learned to accurately estimate distances over ground by how many 50' lengths of fire hose it would take to reach from point A to point B.

Farmers can look at a crop in the field and tell how many bales, bushels, boxes or tons of yield there will be.
posted by X4ster at 10:21 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

From my many years as a musician, I can accurately guess tempi of repeated sounds. When I had an ultrasound while pregnant, I called the baby's heartbeat at 152 beats/minute before the technician could tell me.
posted by daisystomper at 10:27 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked for a couple of years in the field of rabbit research. I once spent a month counting rabbit teats: the does have a variable number of teats and some of them are hidden under the forelegs so it takes some work to find and count them all. I also studied the relationship between the color of vulva in rabbit does and their sexual receptivity and breeding performance. Red: good ; pink: OK ; purple or white: don't even think about it, because female rabbits are really serious about consent (Full PDF here, page 43, in Spanish). I also helped some confused male rabbits to have sex when they could not find the right orifice (la entrada está al otro lado, estúpido). So: I can handle rabbits.
posted by elgilito at 1:17 AM on February 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Another teacher here. My superpowers are being able to read upside down almost as fast as right-side-up (from walking around class an looking at the kid's work), counting groups of people very fast (from checking attendance and making sure I don't lose anyone while on an excursion), and switching left and right when explaining or pointing to something that penguin mentioned above (from demonstrating something in front of the class).

Sadly, I still lack the superpower to learn many new names in a short amount of time, which frustrates me at the beginning of each new school year.
posted by amf at 2:08 AM on February 8, 2013

I've played so much DDR that I literally cannot remember the last time I tripped and fell.
posted by cthuljew at 2:45 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

One other skill that I was reminded of this morning - I can pitch my voice to be heard across a series of crowded rooms, after working in a warren-like pub so old that the only electric lights were in the bathroom/behind the bar - so ringing the bell and calling time were the only way to let the back rooms know it was last orders.

I have since used this skill to put the fear of me into barristers, lawyers and students in a variety of student union bars, libraries and helpdesks at closing time (and tourists who don't move down crowded commuter trains/buses....)
posted by halcyonday at 3:07 AM on February 8, 2013

Surprised not to have seen this already because many of the above posters will have this superpower: when I worked in a bookshop, standing up for eight hours a day, I developed the ability to stand up for long periods without getting sore feet.

I remember the end of the second Monday being agony, and the end of the third Monday being no problem at all.

I work sitting down these days, and I miss that superpower.
posted by The real Gareth Evans at 3:22 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to be a journalist, then I worked for a development agency, spending a lot of time interviewing people in remote places. I write legibly and quickly without looking at my notepad. This sometimes weirds people out.
posted by tavegyl at 4:08 AM on February 8, 2013

As a fundraiser, I'm really, really good at mailings. I can mail merge anything in a few minutes and I can stuff envelopes at a ridiculously fast clip. I also do a lot of editing and database management, and I'm really good at catching mundane errors very quickly, like two or three spaces between a first and last name. I'm also getting better at being able to find markers of someone's wealth (and thus giving capacity, hopefully); I notice if someone is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but is wearing a Lululemon hoodie and a $500 pair of pearl earrings.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:29 AM on February 8, 2013

I work in TV advertising clearance - anythng that goes on air has to be approved by us, and this means checking claims and content.

I know when the copy on a package or magazine article about a beauty product is bullshitting me, because I have picked up on what cosmetics have been proven to do and what they couldn't do without actually operating on you.

I have to tell people they are wrong politely and diplomatically, and I also know a lot about consumer statutory rights - I can get a shop worker to refund me for faulty goods or someone in a call centre to reverse my bank charges every time without being a dick.

I am an absolute pain in the arse to argue with because my work is so often a matter of semantics (I have a linguistics degree) and I can often tell when someone is arguing because they are committed to a position rather than from feeling they are definitely in the right.

Not a work thing, but I accidentally taught myself to speed-read as a child from watching Teletext. I can read a newspaper so quickly that an observer would think I'm flicking through the pages and not taking them in. I learned to read at two, and was at a secondary school level by three, and now I'm no longer young enough to weird people out by being able to read a magazine or a menu, this is what makes people disbelieve me when I said I've read a paragraph of text by just seeming to glance at it. In a previous job, I had to do audio transcription, so I learned to type very very quickly (I type fast but I could get a 30 min news broadcast done almost in real time by the time I left) without looking at the screen or keyboard, because it meant I got to relax and see the end of the Simpsons.

Also, as someone who's been crafting for years, I have a very good sense of colour - I score very very highly on the colour perception test (Munsell?). I can see instantly if something's been touched up in an alike-but-not-matching colour on an embroidery piece or a wall, and I also notice clearly if something has a different colour density to the others (ie. three pastel shades and one leans further towards bright). Consequently a 'matching set' for me is sometimes not two green chairs, say, but one green and one pink, because they tone together.
posted by mippy at 6:27 AM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

From my occupation as a bum on the internet, I've become extremely good at spotting JPEG artifacts without trying.

It's something I'd be happier without.
posted by Violence at 6:48 AM on February 8, 2013

Auto mechanic in a previous life. I can tell by the sound your car is making what is wrong with it. Alternators going bad sound different than water pumps going bad which sound different than an idler pulley going bad. I can also tell if a car has had body work done to it.

Now that I am not a mechanic this has turned into the super power of having everyone I know asking if I can check out a car for them.
posted by alfanut at 6:51 AM on February 8, 2013

I am really good at ejecting pipette tips directly into the trash can.

Grad school has not left me with a lot of widely applicable superpowers.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 AM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think this is along the lines of what you're looking for:

A good friend of mine has spent the last few years as a technical writer, writing/editing/creating step-by-step instructions for activities that are used by parents, caregivers or teachers of children with autism. Due to the nature of autism, it's my understanding that the order in which activities are performed can be extremely important.

He's also a big board game geek.

Because of his work, he can explain any board game -- Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassone -- with utmost clarity, and in perfect order for anyone to understand. As an example, his latest purchase is Shadows Over Camelot, a complicated game with several boards and a ton of rules. He read the instructions over twice on his own, and despite having never played the game himself, was able to explain it and answer any questions to a group of five people.
posted by lukez at 7:14 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was a cashier before going to college. To pass the time I would try to mentally calculate the change (you know, back when people paid for things with cash) before the register would do it.

I've been a competitive cyclists for years and I can tell rapidly if someone is an experienced cyclist. I mostly keep this to myself, but it is helpful to know that the person riding the pro bike with less than six months experience may be a hazard.
posted by dgran at 7:28 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a former semi-pro poker player I have become pretty good at eliminating my own wishful thinking from probability estimations and determining the real likelihood of events going one way or another. I'm also much better at risk-analysis and pushing small advantages--not only can I take a clear eyed look at risks, I recognize that taking risks is necessary in order to succeed in many areas, and I can do so with a relatively calm mind. This translates to many areas of life, taking chances at work or in switching jobs, playing board games, deciding what political candidates to donate to, all over the place.

Another poker skill I got is meeting someone and immediately analyzing their skill-level. I can smell it out when I meet a man or woman who really knows their shit, in almost any setting, especially people who are pretending not to be brilliant but actually are.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

We've heard from a director, we've heard from an actor: now here's a (former) stage manager.

I have learned that it is possible for me to remain calm enough in any kind of crisis in the world, and come up with an on-the-fly fix for just about any situation. Did your zipper break and your fly split open five minutes before your'e going out in public? Stand still, here's a safety pin and I'll pin it. Did someone kick the cord out of the wall and the phone doesn't work? Keep going, I think I got a sound effects CD up here and I'll use that. Did you cut yourself on the prop knife? I know I'm 200 yards away, but I can tell that it looks bad and will stop the show. Did the two most important spotlights short out? Keep going, I'll get the designer to re-write the cues on the fly. Did someone forget to put that hat out on the set for you? Don't worry, I'll crawl out there like a ninja and throw it to you when you need it. Break your foot onstage in the middle of a dance number? I'll grab some stagehands and we'll dance our way over to you and carry you back out. Did some cops just break into the set from backstage out of nowhere? Keep going, I'll run interference and figure out what the fuck is up with that. Coughing up a lung/have a headache/have your period/having a diabetic insulin spike/worn out from your chemo/scrape your knee? Go get my first aid kit, there's something in there that'll work for you. Having a really bad and frustrating day? Go get that Yeats poem out of my bag and read it, and then eat that chocolate in the side pocket. Getting into a shouting match with the director? Hey, let's all have a break. Need a dulcimer? I think I saw one in the closet. Forget the name of that Kerouac book? I know the one you mean, I'll tell you. The director wants you to point the cap gun at your co-star even though you know there's no way in hell that's safe? I'll tell the director to fuck off, don't worry.

Those ALL are actual things that have been sprung on me by actual past actors, and that is how I coped with all of them. I once overheard a producer for a show I worked on training the box office volunteers; she explained to them that a last-resort solution to any problem they faced, they could talk to me - "because EC is the stage manager," she said, "and that means she is near-omnipotent." I was very tempted to put "Near-omnipotent" on my business cards for a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:23 AM on February 8, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'm a library computer geek (ILS system administrator). As a result of this job, I'm fluent in both library jargon and computer jargon. My "superpower" is being able to translate between them and to explain to IT people what the nice librarian is asking for, as well as being able to explain to library staff both what the IT people need and how to make the silly computer do what they need it to do.

As an example, one of my librarians had been trying to get a couple OPACS (online catalogs, computers used to look up books) set up to only be OPACS. That is to say, so that people couldn't go to any website except for the library website. She had been telling her local IT people for 6 years that, "My OPACS are broken, people can hack them." She casually mentioned this to me when I was doing a site visit.

I asked to meet her IT person. She called him, he came up, I gave him my card (shocking him) and explained that we had 2 computers that should be limited to one website, could we set up a custom .hosts file or something. He said, "Oh, yeah, no problem. What is the IP?" I gave it to him, he had the 2 OPACS "fixed" in about 2 minutes.

Both the IT person and the librarian think I am amazing and can work miracles. Just because I can translate between geek and librarian.

This has leaked over IRL. I find myself trying to identify the idiolect people speak and then trying to speak to them in the same way. Or I'll do unhelpful stuff like mediate a transaction between a waitress and a friend, when my buddy really doesn't need my help to order a cheeseburger.

I think this skill has come out of a combination of growing up in a teaching family surrounded by discussions of how to effectively convey information to different groups and working a ref. desk in a public library for 10 years or so.
posted by QIbHom at 10:41 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I work in the middle of The Red Light district in Amsterdam. I have developed the superpower that I can pass dozens of gorgeous half naked women standing in the windows, without actually being aware of them. (It's a bit of a sad superpower, but still.)
posted by ouke at 11:42 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I work for the government, I really can't tell you what I'm particularly good at in my work, but you can rest assured that it most likely will never involve you or your family and that I only use my powers for good. Seriously!

I am really good at sexing small mammals. Studying very small primates who aren't easily differentiated, the easiest thing to do first is look for testicles or pendulous nipples. Consequently, I've developed a real knack for finding squirrel testicles. People are usually not particularly impressed when I point out "That squirrel is male!" but it makes me happy.

Serious question, as a squirrel hunter growing up we found a lot of males that were missing one or both testes. Is it true they do this to each other to prevent competition?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:57 AM on February 8, 2013

I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. There is a pretty strong relationship between testicle size, the capacity to inseminate things, and the amount of male-male competition for access to females, and squirrels have pretty damn big testicles for their size. Here's a picture of my favorite male monkey just after losing his position as dominant male - the other male went right for his testicles. Pretty clever, though obviously squirrels aren't thinking "Hey! Now they'll have fewer sperm!"
posted by ChuraChura at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2013

One of our Math teachers in cégep, who was pretty tall, could write on the board ambidextrously. He could switch hands in the middle of writing an equation, switching his body (which would get in the way of the board) from one side to the other.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a programmer, I tend to casually over-analyze the complexity of everyday life, with oft-frustrating results. Biggest pet peeve: Mowing the lawn, because no matter how good your route is, it's still O(n2).

I have the juggler's catching reflex, too. It's great.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:29 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another superpower I used to have from my bartending days - the ability to add and multiply any combination of the possible prices on the different drinks at my bar (it was a side bar just for beer and wine and there was no cash register) at lightning speed, even when totally hammered.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:32 PM on February 8, 2013

People are usually not particularly impressed when I point out "That squirrel is male!"

I promise I would be impressed.

We did this easily, 6 times and each time the machine worked normally for me, but not for him.

What was the solution to this?
posted by jeather at 1:37 PM on February 8, 2013

As a speech-language pathologist, I am inordinately good at identifying phonological and articulatory patterns. This may or may not result in identifying an accent, but I can tell you how, and in what contexts, your shifting vowels or changing a sound. I spent a good amount of time during conversations doing a phonological analysis of your speech (while keeping up a good poker face :) It also means I can't listen to your adorable four year old without forming an opinion as to whether or not he still uses a sippy cup or a pacifier. When I was a full-time clinician I was really good at doing this and writing broad transcriptions in IPA fluently. I've lost that a bit now, and I miss it.

Recently, I've noticed people on tv (and generally from the west coast of the US) pronouncing /st/ blends as /sht/, particularly in the middle of words, and it's driving me insane.
posted by absquatulate at 1:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cashiered at a grocery store throughout high school and college so I am awesome at doing 10 key from having to enter produce codes into the register while looking at the produce and not my fingers/register. I'm a librarian now and this comes in handy when barcodes won't scan and I have to enter library card or book numbers into the system.
posted by jabes at 2:01 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a former microbiologist where a good sense of smell is pretty useful, I now find myself in the freakily helpful(?) position of being able to identify any one of my 40 colleagues by their scent. Even if they've been in a room up to 5 minutes before me.

Additionally, because of where I sit in my workplace, I'm able to identify about 30 of my 40 colleagues by the sound of their footsteps alone. It's actually a surprisingly easy (and useful!) thing to train yourself to do.
posted by car01 at 2:29 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Assuming competent fire direction control and gunners, I can accurately land an artillery shell within 50 meters of an arbitrary location anywhere within my line of sight without binoculars or a compass. All I need is a topo map, a radio, and about 60 seconds to orient terrain features to said map. Of course this hasn't been tested in a bit over 20 years now, but I can still read the hell out of a map when given the opportunity.

Not coincidentally, I treat GPS units and users with disdain. This isn't so much a super power as it is a personal shortcoming.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2013

RN here. Resolving severe constipation. Because of this superpower people have called me an angel of God in multiple languages.

People are often really embarrassed, but they are horribly, horribly uncomfortable. I'll delicately go over their options and if they need more aggressive interventions such as enemas or digital stimulation I try very hard to be kind and professional. It can get very intimate helping someone in this way. When several days or weeks long constipation resolves an impressive amount of stool comes out, more than I ever imagined pre-RN days, which can be shocking to the person experiencing it. It takes some skill to help them and the room stay as clean as possible. I want their dignity to remain intact.

Before I was a nurse I would have thought who in their right mind would want to be so directly connected to the entire contents of someone's bowel. But helping someone clear that out safely and cleanly turns their world back around. And I'm happy to be that person in the time of need.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:06 PM on February 8, 2013 [25 favorites]

It is a little difficult to say anything at all after the last contribution, but I'll just explain that I have built up the ability to quickly diagnose what is wrong and can quickly be improved in harpsichords. And to improve it.
I was sort of born under a harpsichord, grew up around them and my ears are all geared toward the subtleties of a good specimen of such an instrument, or the lack of subtleties in the less convincing ones.
It is a helpful skill, believe it or not, at least for a keyboard player like myself, because even though concert houses, conservatories, music schools etc. frequently own such instruments, they are rarely kept in good order, and never in an excellent one. For the harpsichordist this is bad, because our instrument (even though it can be great in every respect when great music is greatly played on a great harpsichord) can be utterly uncharming if not presented at its very best.
For me - unless there's something seriously out of regulation - a better-sounding and functioning harpsichord for my next gig is in most cases one quiet hour with my toolkit away.
posted by Namlit at 3:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

My very first job was as an usher in a movie theater (back when you bought a ticket for a specific showing and it had your seat number on it), and for a long time knew the alphabet backwards (because the rows start at the front with "A", and you were often seating people in the dark).
I also worked the concession stand, and loads of retail afterwards, and can still count back change from a transaction without a calculator. Drives me crazy when someone just hands me my change - here's 8 dollars and 67 cents! instead of "that's a dollar 33, so (2 pennies) 35, (nickel) 40, (dime) fifty, (2 quarters) seventy-five, two, (three 1 dollar bills) three, four five, and (one 5 dollar bill) five makes 10" Of course, almost no one actually does that, so I'm pretty crazy...
posted by dbmcd at 3:55 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two things:

From years of working with lighting in buildings, theatre, events, galleries and museums I can pick colour temperature and balance far better than 99.9% of the general population.

Like anyone who has spent a lot of time moving things I have an intuitive understanding of how to lift things and the unspoken language of multiperson lifting. It's painfully obvious when someone who doesn't normally move goods participates in a four person lift, for example. You can have four people lift 120kg with little more spoken than "2, 3" if they have that knack and understanding. Watch an experienced event or music crew work.
posted by deadwax at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another RN here. I can carry like 15 things in my 2 hands, and still open a door. You need 12 individually-packaged pills and 2 syringes full of medication and 2 inhalers and a new set of bedsheets and a 1 liter bag of saline and coffee with cream and sugar on the side (don't forget the spoon)? Somehow I will make it happen in one trip to your room, and if I can't manage to knock first I'll call out "knock knock" or "it's vytae" when I'm coming in. I might even manage to drag in the newly-delivered walker that's leaning against the wall in the hallway outside your door. Part of me wants to change all the doorknobs in our house to levers, since they are so much easier to work with an elbow.

A near corollary is that I can't really change locations anywhere in my personal life without bringing something along. I won't go upstairs in my house without first grabbing whatever else needs to go upstairs. I won't go to my parents' house without bringing back the tupperware I borrowed and the novel I'm planning to loan, not to mention the coupon for the pet food store that's near their house. I don't even go across the kitchen for a knife without also picking up the salt cellar I'm going to need later in the recipe. I'm constantly thinking about how many things I can check off my to-do list in a single trip, whether it's 4 feet away or across town.
posted by vytae at 6:59 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can cater a meal for three hundred in the space of a few hours.

Not the cooking part, but going from "oh shit we're going to have 300 people to feed tonight" to narrowing down the general ballpark of what to feed them and how much money to spend, to researching restaurants, to finding the restaurant that can actually do this, to ordering the right amount of food, to figuring out the timing* to finally getting the food to the people with all the necessary condiments, servingware, utensils, beverages, etc. and making sure everyone gets plenty to eat and is happy.

I'm similarly good at ordering flowers and gift baskets, as well as dealing with epic celebratory cake situations. But catering is my real superpower.

*If the wrap estimate is 10 and we broke for lunch at 3:30, we need to feed people around 9:30, which means we need to have a PA walking out the door of the restaurant no later than 8:45, which means I need to ask the restaurant manager to have it ready by 8 because they're never ready when they say they'll be ready.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 PM on February 8, 2013

If I've met you in person, rest assured that I know exactly where I'd put a line in you.

My mom is a nurse and my dad is a pediatrician. I have dim memories of them talking about where they'd put an IV in me and my younger siblings. It was a recurring topic of conversation. My mom used to absent-mindedly brush the back of my hand with her fingers to draw up a vein, as, like, some kind of weird medical endearment thing.
posted by Sara C. at 11:08 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

As an ESL teacher in Japan I can generally tell what word they were using when they tried to translate into English, and figure out the word they wanted to arrive at.

I can spot a non native speaker, no matter how fluent, almost instantly.

Any attempt by a student at using translation software, I'm onto it in seconds of picking up the essay.

Living in a culture which combines overcrowding with slow walkers and careless drivers, I have a near sixth sense about where people are about to move, and I swear to god, I missed my calling as punt returner in the NFL.

From teaching, I've become freakishly good at body language, and constantly notice what people don't want to be advertising. Also, I can spot a lie (told where I can see the speaker) almost instantly. Also, a better understanding of group dynamics, and being able to spot the person who will hinder a group, as well as the person who will be able to help the group reach their goals.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:09 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, working in a bookstore gave me magical powers of memory. From stocking books, I learned to remember exactly where I put things, and to this day, I can find almost anything I've actually physically handled within the last week with no fuss whatsoever, no matter where.

The other bizarre power came from being able to recognize any book (from the time I was working) by only its spine. This came to me when, years later, I saw the movie Wolf, with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer. It was set in a publishing company where pretty much every office had a wall of books. For whatever reason, the titles had been removed, so it was just the colors and patterns of the spine. I realized I knew exactly what all of the books on the shelf were, even without the titles.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:18 AM on February 9, 2013

Just got down from the mountain after a morning of teaching kids how to ski. A parent commented on our superhuman ability to count a gaggle of ten or so kids. (I personally do it by counting to threes, so ten kids would be "One two three, one two three, one.")

I can also diagnose client speak, turn it into Professional Ski instructor speak in my head, and spew out a helpful progression based on the client. I have about a million different ways to explain and teach a simple motion because I have to reach bratty 8 year olds, timid old ladies, and Fancy Pants PSIA certification clinicians. I'm also cursed with judging and critiquing everyone I ski with and see skiing. This is particularly annoying when I'm watching ski porn, because some of those big mountain guys have terrible form, and I comment on it, but lord knows they are way more badass than I am!
posted by Grandysaur at 12:56 PM on February 9, 2013

you just lost three kids
posted by ryanrs at 1:50 PM on February 9, 2013 [19 favorites]

deadwax: "Like anyone who has spent a lot of time moving things I have an intuitive understanding of how to lift things and the unspoken language of multiperson lifting. It's painfully obvious when someone who doesn't normally move goods participates in a four person lift, for example. You can have four people lift 120kg with little more spoken than "2, 3" if they have that knack and understanding. Watch an experienced event or music crew work."

I second this thought, although I was the inexperienced guy sorry to say. Felt real guilty. Charlie Daniels and Marshal Tucker were playing a concert at a farm near my college. They needed to hire some locals to help with setup and breakdown. I got paid $100 to move amps, large boxes filled with all sorts of equipment and even a portable bar. I got to watch the show from the side of the stage. The change between bands was one of the most efficient and coordinated moves I have ever witnessed or experienced and would have been even more so if it weren't for me and 3 friends getting in the way while helping.

Many stories to tell from that night, but knowing how to coordinate the lifting and moving of heavy objects is a learned skill that we should all have. (I still cringe thinking about how I almost caused us to drop a friggin piano off the stage.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:08 PM on February 9, 2013

I worked in kitchens for a number of years and still maintain my knife skills superpower (if a little slower than it used to be). Watching anyone else chopping up food is almost torture because it's so painfully slow and usually dangerous. I often wonder how most people have all ten digits intact by their terrible knife skills and the blunt, cheap knives they buy. I find it so hard to watch my partner preparing dinner, I can't help but offer to quickly slice/dice/julienne the carrot or whatever for him, but he refuses.

A family friend is a very gifted painter decorator and he could look at a white wall and tell you how much blue, red, yellow etc tones made up the white base, or your blue tshirt and tell you all the undertone colours that make up the blue. He doesn't need the colour matching computers at the paint store, he can mix up the tints by sight and be spot on to your eyes, but still tweak it a few times until he feels it's an exact match.
posted by Zaire at 4:49 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Knitting instructor/yarn shop manager:
  • I can measure your chest and tell you how much yarn you need for a sweater +/- 10% if I know how long you want it and about what level of detail you want to include (cabling really eats up yarn)
  • I design my own sweaters. And all of my socks fit perfectly because I made them especially for my weird feet.
  • Anyone who can tie their own shoes, I can teach to knit, provided they actually want to learn and aren't hindered by cognitive issues that prevent learning. you'd be surprised how many people bring their older parents/grandparents in for lessons and it turns out the reason mom/grandma stopped knitting was because she stopped being able to understand/follow a pattern/remember what she had just done. I got good at delicately explaining that lessons weren't going to be fun or helpful.
  • I can teach people how to knit forwards and backwards, and cable and lace all in less time than they expect. (again, provided they actually want to expand their skill set.)
  • Have gotten quite good at figuring out what it is people want from their lessons. "I've never knitted before" means different things to different people. Recognizing and addressing this carries over from my office days of knowing which questions to ask on the phone.
  • I can identify yarn in the ball without a label, or in the sweater that someone knitted for you. And surprisingly often in photographs.
  • I can find errors in knitting patterns/in knitted items/a given knitter's understanding of pattern writing conventions.
Most of these skills do not translate terribly well into every day living.
posted by bilabial at 6:39 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

By my second summer of working for The Green Mountain Club along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, I could always tell if a hiker was in the process of doing the whole trail. We call such folks thru-hikers, and I could pick out a thru-hiker from some mere person who had just done the last 500 miles or whatever. The next year I did my own thru-hike. The first week out, end of March, I met a guy hiking the other way. I knew instantly that he was a thru-hiker, even though he would have had to been doing a winter thru-hike. And he was.

Twenty years later we were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and at a rest stop I walked by a picnic table with some hikers. I stopped and said, "When did you leave Springer, and when are you going to make Katahdin?" I was right, they were thu-hikers.
posted by LarryC at 9:40 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dad's an OBGYN, and he's very good at telling the weights of objects between 4 and 10 pounds.

I'm an academic, and I spend a lot of time listening to other academics talk past each other. I've gotten pretty good at figuring out what question people are really trying to ask, at least in the narrow area of physics (although apparently it works for board games too), and framing it in a way so the person they're asking understands and can answer. I find it interesting that this is evidently a narrower version of the librarian superpower!

Oh, and I've also got the juggler catch reflex, but I am not totally sure it's a good thing. The reflex does not stop to think about the *temperature* of the object in question, evidently, and though I've never hurt myself it has been uncomfortable a few times.
posted by nat at 9:47 PM on February 9, 2013

I work in a museum and spend a lot of time reading old handwritten letters and museum records. As a result, I am very good at reading 19th century handwriting. It's pretty intuitive at this point, so I am always caught up short when an intern or new staffer has trouble even beginning to read something that I am just zipping through. (I'm also good at identifying probable transcription errors in the various typed versions of these records, and correcting them by going back and correctly reading the handwritten records.)
posted by gudrun at 12:40 AM on February 10, 2013

Ah, sex industry superpowers here.

I work at an adult retailer.

There's body superpowers:

I can tell immediately if you have an erection under your clothes. You could come in wearing a barrel and I'll pick it. Don't even try having a quiet wank in the corner of my shop, I'll pick it up a mile away. This has proven to be terribly useful on public transport.

I can spot a lady stripper even if she's in civilian clothes, and can probably tell you how long she's been dancing. Full body spray tan, wearing ugs in summer, absolutely killer calves? Pole superstar.

I know boobs. Even the best fakies are not going to get by me.

There's gender superpowers:

My gaydar is freaking amazing now. And I can have a conversation about your sex life, in detail, without ever once outing you, if you so choose it.

Ditto for my transo-senso. There are far, far more transfolk out there than people realize. You'll meet dozens of them and never know it, especially if you're only looking for the ones who either struggle with or don't care particularly about "passing". On a more squicky note, I can spot the difference between a guy who is showing interest in translady porn because he's a bit of a fancier or a chaser, and the guy who is working on his own sexuality and is "gatewaying" towards gay porn.

I know when het boys want to stick something in their butts but are too afraid to ask.

Unfortunate medical stuff:

I can diagnose a latex allergy quicksmart. Ditto a range of common STIs, UTIs, and muscular issues.

I can also spot the difference between "my girlfriend has a hard time reaching climax" and "my idea of foreplay is asking "you awake, love?"

Then there's the more technical superpowers:

I can tell what's wrong with a vibrator by the pitch of the sound, how the vibration registers in the hand while the motor's running.

I can pick the difference between PVC, different grades of silicone, ABS plastics and TPR and TPE plastics on sight. Same for satin, silk, cotton, ect.

And then there's retail skills:

Typing on a 10 pad? Like greased lightning. I can add your total up before we hit the till, make change off common totals from major denominations without even thinking. Very handy when shopping for myself. I can find a barcode on a box of zebras and I bag like a wizard, which is the main reason I use self-checkouts whenever I can. I've been working retail for ten years, you better believe I'm faster than the trainee on checkout five. I can cram so much stock onto a limited amount of wall you'll worry about black holes forming. This is the only reason all my clothes fit in my cupboard. And oh! All the hangers have to face the same way. It's just the Law. One's situation awareness hits a point where you know how many people are in a room without having to look, who they are, and where they are - fun for ordering food, looking for your mates at club, that sort of thing.
posted by Jilder at 2:22 AM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Former book reviewer:
I'm pretty good at predicting plot direction, especially while watching TV.
posted by the_blizz at 7:09 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

From my time working as a movie concessionist, I have the ability to consume popcorn that's so loaded down with butter that eating it isn't an option, you have to drink it.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:31 AM on February 10, 2013

Realized I forgot one.
During rehearsals, I am watching set changes, scenic pieces, and props, not acting. When the lights go down and everyone else pretty much stops paying attention, I go on alert. Set changes can be very dangerous times- large things are moving in the dark, and during early rehearsals the everyone is still figuring out how to do their part most efficiently. They may not be watching what other people are doing. I've gotten good at seeing that a dangerous situation is about to develop. The associated superpower here is that I can say the word "hold" in a way that will cause everyone who hears it to instantly stop in their tracks. I'm not angry, or yelling exactly, just extremely loud and firm.
It turns out this works outside of theatres, too, if you are sufficiently firm. It's instinctive for me, I don't even think about it. Someone about to run into a wall with a pile of boxes? HOLD. Friend who is helping me move about to miss a stair? HOLD.
It is astonishingly effective, even on people who have not been trained to stop when they hear it.
posted by Adridne at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I study spiders, which means I often spend lots of time looking for spiders. At home, this means that I usually spot spiders and insects before they get anywhere close to my kid (or anyone for that matter).
posted by dhruva at 7:25 PM on February 10, 2013

My first job was in a TV/VCR repair shop. The actual technicians would fix a machine, and I'd get assigned to test them and put them back together. No manuals, no button labels. (Well, there were manuals with exploded diagrams, but I tried to not use them, mostly because I hadn't filed them properly)

So I can take a carcass and get it to work for you. I can put it back together, too.

Flatscreens and DVD players, not so much.
posted by lysdexic at 10:52 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The associated superpower here is that I can say the word "hold" in a way that will cause everyone who hears it to instantly stop in their tracks. I'm not angry, or yelling exactly, just extremely loud and firm.


In that vein - stage managerial work lead to my being able to continue the vocal training I'd learned when I thought I was going to be an actress. I didn't have need for the dancing or the emoting, but being able to proejct your voice clear to the far end of a room the size of a football field, even when that room is filled with people gossiping, practicing lines, arguing about costumes, and such, is very, very useful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 AM on February 11, 2013

I am civil engineer that works mostly with drainage.

I can tell you, within a minute, while walking across a parking lot where it drains to, where the water will pool and not drain and why the pavement is cracking (this two are usually related). I can identify what piece of equipment (large construction equipment) it is by silhouette and tell you maker by that and paint job, sometimes I can even name the contractor. I can tell how how rushed and/or careful a contractor was by the quality of the finish of the concrete (sidewalks/gutter and such). I can tell you where all the accidents occur (or almost occur) in a parking lot and usually on a roadway just by walking down the sidewalk.
posted by bartonlong at 3:18 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh! Oh! Another one. If I'm looking at you, I know your pants size.

8+ years in retail, and I know when a chick is walking into the fitting room with a bunch of size 26 jeans, that she'll be coming out in 5 minutes for a 28. Never wrong.
posted by celtalitha at 9:53 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I can catch things as they are dropping.... While I can be a bit klutzy, I can often recover with seemingly amazing grace.

I am a juggler. (no, not 9-5, but I've worked professionally as such and have a local reputation).
posted by el io at 2:23 AM on February 12, 2013

From my time at the airport:

- I can communicate with people even if I don't speak their language at all with just the usage of expressions and common items.

- Best example: This gentleman spoke Arabic and no English and looked confused. We were in the baggage claim area so I just pulled out a paper that looked vaguely like a ticket then made a sign for bags and a sorta lost looking gesture. He nodded emphatically I asked for his ticket, took him to his baggage claim office, and got somebody on the phone with him.

- I also realized that I know a lot of friends who speak a lot of different languages.

From my time as a bouncer/security/door:

- I have spent so much time memorizing and looking at all the security features on IDs that I have found it easy to spot documents that are real even without ever knowing them.
- I can spot fake IDs for all 50 states within a second of looking at them.
- Anyone approaching the door that isn't 21 and up, I can usually tell before they even show me their ID.
- Spotting people who aren't drunk quite yet, but it hasn't filtered through is a skill I NEED to have. It's my job to decide whether I let them in or not and make them our liability.
- Similarly, listening to the sounds of conversation, footfalls, and jostling as to whether it's just natural bar noise or a fight about to break out. Spotting potential troublemakers as well.
- Police officers, firefighters, and military all have a very similar gait, however, there are some differences. Also, similar body builds.
- The juggler's reflex. It's great when you catch someone's beer right as it falls out of their hand and just hand it back to them as if nothing happened. It also helps to catch tables before they fall as well as people.
- I have a great awareness for my immediate surroundings and the two doors I need to watch. It's like my superpower area.
- I can at a glance have a good estimate of how many people there are in a room. It's even better if I know the capacity ahead of time.
- Finally, and my favorite, the voice. Being able to use a commanding but not angry voice to move drunks out of the bar is a very useful skill I have found translates well to almost any situation when you need to be heard over noise.
posted by lizarrd at 1:51 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My customers rely on my business to make their business go. Everything is always too complicated, the stakes are always high, and conflicting demands are standard equipment. I've gotten really good at making things happen and pulling rabbits out of hats in bleak circumstances.

It's nice to have proven to myself that I can waltz into a catastrophe and make it right, but I'm getting pretty tired of rescuing situations that are ultimately very preventable.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:14 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm working service jobs through school. Mostly coffee, with a bit of waiting tables.

Waiting tables has made me able to multitask like a mofo, and charm the pants off of most people.

As for coffee, well. I make the best damn coffee of anyone I know. I can tell where coffee came from by the taste, and I make perfect foam. Even on a dinky little home espresso machine. I am unreasonably proud of this fact.
posted by dogheart at 8:57 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got an email today that simply said, "You have the gift of tactful prose." It's a great superpower, 'cause you can apply it to any situation. Condo association? Check. Crazy boss? Check. Customer support person who incorrectly processed my transaction? Check.

I think it came from having to deal with irrational people in a clear and polite manner in the fields of nonprofit consulting and financial research.
posted by cranberry_nut at 6:12 AM on February 13, 2013

Medical student. I can discuss bodily fluids and other gross stuff about the human body over lunch, no problemo.
posted by rozaine at 9:30 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not my job, but I walk extremely quickly. I can figure out which is going to be the fastest way through a large group of people aimlessly milling around without even trying. I once ruined a surprise present by walking 500 yards through a busy marketplace in less time than my friends thought possible.

Working retail has taught me to tell you your change before the till tells me, once I know how you're paying. I'm also nine times out of ten right when it comes to guessing how you'll pay. I have to stop myself from merchandising stock when I walk into shops now. (I was once followed by a store security guard who thought I was stealing things because I kept fiddling with the displays). I'm also pretty good at spotting shoplifters.
posted by Solomon at 10:00 AM on February 13, 2013

I'm a medical resident and I can go 32 hours without sleep without blinking an eye. Whereas I used to inhale caffeine, I've become so in tuned with the ups and downs of my circadian cycle such that all I need is a glass of ice water at 2:00am and half a cup of earl grey tea at 4:00am and I'm good to go.
posted by cacofonie at 9:19 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Medical student. I can discuss bodily fluids and other gross stuff about the human body over lunch, no problemo.

I dated a medical student for a few years, so I can do this too. An even more impressive superpower I acquired then was that I can get a room full of medical students to talk about something, ANYTHING, other than stuff about the human body.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:13 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I work for a medium-sized School within a large university and have daily contact with faculty, staff, students, and administrators.

I have the ability to calm people in various stages of freak-out. I'm small and quiet and my office has very mellow lighting. People come to me with their urgent problems. I listen (let them get it out of their system, because usually the problem isn't the problem -- their reaction to it is). I tell them to go back to their office/classroom/apartment and let me figure it out, and I tell them when I'll be back in touch. They go away happy that their problem is someone else's now, and I get to work solving it. I sometimes need to pressure people to be creative in helping me forge solutions or in their attempts to navigate red tape, but I'm generally successful because I maintain genial relationships with all of my coworkers.

This is what solves problems, and it's so freaking simple. Why some public employees dig their heels in and refuse to provide any assistance is a toal mystery to me. There's much greater job satisfaction in actually getting things done.

On the other hand, I don't make nearly enough.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can understand and stabalize people with severe mental illnesses.

It's actually become sort of a running gag around my office, because I'll be passed some person who is very difficult and who doesn't emotionally connect with their case manager (we call that rapport) and within usually two to three months I have them stabalized and cooperating with me. It seems to be related to how I am able to set asside my worldview and preconcieved ideas and explore and step inside of the world views of my clients, and then come up with ways to use their system of understanding the world to connect with them, identify their wants and needs, translate what they need to do in order to remain stable and in the community, and then intervene in such a way that what I want to have happen, happens. I would say about half of what I do is unconscious, which makes it really difficult to analyze!

Unfortunately, it's not the sort of thing one can show off at cocktail parties; in fact, increasingly I respond to the meta-data of someone speaking to me, insteasd of the data, which is useful with people who can't communicate clearly but infuriating to people who can and find my assumptions maddening.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:14 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

At my previous job I had to listen to lots -- lots -- of phone messages. And so I now leave excellent phone messages.

Soooo many people leave long and rambling phone messages followed by muttering their phone number so quickly it's impossible to decipher. NO! BAD!

-Phone number, stated slowly and clearly (do it first! so that if the person listening to the message didn't catch it they can go back to the beginning and get it again without having to listen to the rest of the message!).
-Concise (like, one sentence) explanation of reason you're calling.
-Phone number again, just in case.

The receptionists of the world will sing your praises. TIA. :)
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:23 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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