Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bust THIS!

I have a new fetish: Mythbusters.

I know, I know. I bitch and bitch about television and then put up these occasional posts extolling the virtues of some program or other. I don't mean to distance myself from my long-held contention that broadcast network television is a form of societal cancer and that we'd all be much better off if it suddenly were jesused out of existence. But even I have never claimed that scouring the buzillion channels available on cable or satellite will fail to yield SOME things of value. I think if the big networks we all watched were not ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox but rather CNN, TLC, Discovery and Turner Classic Movies then I'd have a lot less to bitch about.

But Mythbusters. First off, I love the generic scientific / baloney-grinder aspect of the show. This seems an excellent general approach for thwarting our natural tendency to favor exaggerated lore as a means of explaining our world. But even better than that, they spend a lot of time figuring out how to simulate and test things, and then eventually everything gets blown up!

Yeah, it's really ALL about explosions (co-host Jamie Hyneman is shown at every show's opening saying "Jamie wants BIG BOOM" and that bedrock desire is almost always satisfied). They come up with a well-defined myth, engage in a brainstorming session to figure out what principles are at stake and how to test them, and then the rest of the episode shows them pulling this off. They begin by testing the myth itself, and finish up by replicating the supposed results of the myth. This is excellent.

My wife doesn't particularly care for the show--it's too technical for her and almost devoid of the requisite hand-wringing of interpersonal drama--but she seems to think that my glee with every experiment is a reason to stick around. The show is apparently so good that my own reaction to it becomes a draw for her. (That's either true love or a form of sickness.)

One of my favorite episodes is from a couple years ago (though I just saw it recently). They test the myth that a water heater with its safety features malfunctioning can blow up your entire house. This is a perfect myth for them to test: it's finite in scope, excellently falsifiable, and it's an idea which we all brush up to closely enough to have a seat-of-the-pants sense about. What I didn't expect was the perfect missile-like behavior of the water heater when it failed. I assumed a seam along its length would give out causing a standard boiler explosion (and wondered what that would look like). But no, on two separate occasions it was the bottom that gave way, causing the hot water--and the huge expansion of the steam made when the water is uncapped--to jet out exactly like a rocket engine. That huge expansion in volume when the heater gives way absolutely obliterated the little building they constructed around it; but if we watch the footage from the high speed camera, we see that the water heater itself departed the scene almost instantaneously--long before the building had a chance to disintegrate. They built the enclosure to California building codes, so there were 2X4 trusses on the roof with regular sheathing and other roofing materials, and these materials slowed down the departing water heater not one whit. And for something not specifically designed for it to fly 500 feet up in the air is fan-freakin'-tastic!

Here. I defy you not to be entertained.

This one is especially fun, but they're all quite entertaining, especially anything requiring the talents of their hugely battered crash-test dummy ("Buster") or any ballistics gel human simulator.

(This video will not play for me at the moment. If the problem persists, try this shorter snippet from the same episode.)


dbackdad said...

I think that show's great. I watch it with my 6-year-old-son. It's reality television that's actually trying to teach something. Plus, it's funny as hell.

Jeffy said...

I LOVE Mythbusters! (I think I may have raved about the show before.) It is the one show that might get me to start buying cable (as it is I only get to see episodes at my folks' house and some that my brother-in-law recorded for me). As you say, the show is very funny, and it is great fun watching things get blown up (or otherwise destroyed). I also love the fact that they are making scientific experimentation popular. They don't come off as geeks, just fairly regular guys (and gals) that are willing to find out for themselves how things really are.

I see that they now have a few full episodes online for us to watch - I'll catch you later...

Diane said...

That's awesome and incredibly FUNNY for whatever reason!
I'm too dang cheap (with money and TIME) to get cable, so I've never seen the show.

wunelle said...

See? And who said we didn't perform any useful public service here at le Jour-nelle?

You can find all sorts of fun Mythbusters stuff on YouTube if you're so inclined.