The ~ refers to your home directory:
So cd ~ is equivalent to cd /home/dharshi for instance.
The directory /etc/skel contains files and folders that are used in setting up a particular user's default state environment, such as giving him a shell resource file/s, maybe a site specific emacs resource file or even giving the individual a e.g GNOME specific look when they log in to the system. HTH.
-- Aly Dharshi [email protected]
"A good speech is like a good dress that's short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the subject"