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Ask The Mythbusters 1435

Who are the Mythbusters? Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are the hosts of a unique and popular television show on the Discovery cable channel. Working from a background in the special effects industry and shooting on location at effects warehouse M5 Industries, Jamie and Adam attempt to shed light on hearsay, rumour, and myth. Along the way they usually run across a little bit of science, too. Today, you have a chance to put questions to them. We'll take the 15 best questions and pass them on to the gentlemen to be answered sometime soon after the Thanksgiving holiday. One question per comment, please, and keep things topical. We'll post their responses as soon as we get them back, so ask away.
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Ask The Mythbusters

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  • Logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by duckpoopy ( 585203 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @11:37AM (#14090642) Journal
    Do you realize that being unable to reproduce some event does not make that event impossible?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @11:47AM (#14090810)
    Love the show - it's spawned some serious fights with my wife over control of the TV at 9PM on Wednesdays (stupid "Lost" ending up in the same slot!).

    Why don't you just TiVo the replay a few hours later, and watch it the next day? I'm a Lost and Mythbusters fan-- since Lost doesn't get rerun late at night, the decision of which to watch in real time was made for me.
  • I'll second this! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @11:56AM (#14090947) Homepage
    I love the show, and maybe this would ruin the show's mainstream appeal, but I'd LOVE to have a couple of resident Physicists and Engineers advising them to get more rigorous results. Things get waaaaay too oversimplified.

    To add to your jet engine example, my biggest gripe was always their "windows down vs. AC" gas-mileage test. All their test could possibly show was that at the one tested speed in the one tested vehicle, that's what happened. Even their retraction and correction later was oversimplified-- they explained that at some point, the speed of a vehicle becomes great enough that the AC wins over the windows-- but they acted like that number is the same for all cars regardless of all the other variables. (engine size, AC design, window size and position, and overall aerodynamic shape, to name a few)
  • by l4m3z0r ( 799504 ) <kevin AT uberstyle DOT net> on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @11:57AM (#14090959)
    Is there pressure to always bust(or bust as often as possible) a Myth? Many times I have watched your show and felt that you gave up too early or simply weren't trying hard enough, or I've come up with something that I'd like to try(are you guys hiring?).

    AN ASIDE: I've wanted to make time to write ever since I saw your gun barrel peeling like a banana episode. First I'd like to point out my observation that the plug that you welded into the barrel would essentially garuntee that the gun wouldn't peel back in such a fashion, since you are forcibly holding the barrel shut so as to prevent any peeling it would be infinitely more likely that your weld would break(it did) or some imperfection halfway down the barrel would blow out the side.

    ANECDOTE: My uncles shotgun peeled back in the exact manner in which you were going for. He tripped while hunting in the woods and the barrel poked itself into some mud, unoticed by him he continued hunting until finally he took a shot at a pheasant. The gun barrel ripped apart a la elmer fudd, we all remarked on how it looked exactly like the cartoon. I imagine the fact that he was not injured at all was just his dumb luck.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:01PM (#14091016) Journal
    What you do is fun and interesting, but it is not rigorous.

    Obviously, when they get positive results, they're meaningful. When they get negative results, they're showing falsification within the space that they're testing, which is usually well within any sane real-world conditions.

    It may not be True Science, but scientific research as normally practiced is a lot closer to Mythbusters than to your Platonic ideal.

  • by iotashan ( 761097 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:03PM (#14091036)
    How do you feel when you've finished exploring a myth in front of the cameras, knowing that your results are being closely scrutinized by geeks worldwide, and, in a lot of cases, by experts in their respective fields?
  • by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:03PM (#14091037) Homepage Journal
    Actually I figured that years ago - the reason is: would a corporation seeking to avoid CAFE levees design the aerodynamics of a truck to divert airflow in such a way that fuel economy will be fine when the tailgate is closed, or would they design the aerodynamics without taking the tailgate into account, causing customers to leave the tailgate open and let it bounce (and eventually come off on some bumpy road because the safety cables or levers are usually fairly flimsy)?

    Of course they assume a closed tailgate (since they recommend never leaving it open) and want to do anything they can to avoid lowering their corporate average fuel economy rating (CAFE) when they design the vehicle, then they can avoid the $600-or-so per-vehicle fine because they've sought to keep their average fuel economy up.

    Also: if they didn't take the tailgate into account when designing the truck, performance would absolutely suck on the highway. Hell, I've noticed the slight drag from the pop-up headlights on my ZR-1 (Corvette) at extreme speeds, and the drag from the aerodynamic popup headlights is minimal compared to the effects introduced by a large rectangular sail on a truck would be if the engineers didn't take it into account during the design and windtunnel testing process.
  • Re:Favorites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by llevity ( 776014 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:12PM (#14091144)
    In all fairness, this is two guys vs. MIT. Cut them some slack, eh?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:56PM (#14091752)
    So, let me make sure I understand this: Even though it is well known that high quality wooden arrows were specifically selected for the straightest possible grain (just like pole-axe handles) the so-called "mythbusters" based their evaluation on the cheap-ass arrows that are sold nowadays to people who can't afford aluminum?

    Right. Well, I don't need to watch that show.

  • Re:Favorites (Score:2, Insightful)

    by carlos_benj ( 140796 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @12:59PM (#14091785) Journal
    A common 'myth'conception, my friend.....

    A myth is a story that may or may not have some basis in truth. So, the ratio of busted to confirmed myths isn't necessary to the accuracy of the title as it could accurately convey their intent (and it sounds cooler than "Myth Investigators"). They may be setting out to bust as many as they can, but in the process they end up confirming some.
  • Re:Favorites (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bataras ( 169548 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @02:18PM (#14092543)
    It is impossible to prove a negative. When you do something like failing to flip a taxi with a jet engine and claim that busts the myth that a taxi can be flipped with a jet engine, do you feel you're misleading the public as to how science and logic work?
  • Re:Favorites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jboy_24 ( 88864 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @02:19PM (#14092550) Homepage
    Its said to be impossible to prove a negative. I think they did do a great job in proving that it was impossible enough.

    1) They tested with pitch and tar on wood

    2-3) I read that invading ships would cover the sea for as far as the eye could see. Do you really think 300-500 soldiers could invade a city with perhaps 100,000+ people? I think you're off by 100x

    Finally, MIT was only able to catch a ship on fire when it was 75 feet away using modern mirrors. Look at something 75 feet away. You honestly think Archimedies had 1000s of soldiers standing at the shore, aiming mirrors at ships 75 ft (22m) away (bobbing in the ocean) trying to start them on fire, while the people on the ship were firing arrows back at them?
  • Re:Critique (Score:2, Insightful)

    by VaderPi ( 680682 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @02:28PM (#14092625) Homepage
    Many of the myths that they tackle on the show involve trying to recreate an event to ascertain if it is possible that the event ever took place. Do you ever feel uncomfortable about doing that? This does not disprove that the event ever happened. I will try to explain. You are making many assumptions about the event's preconditions and then trying to recreate them based on your assumptions in hopes that it will cause the event to happen. When the event does not happen, you conclude that the myth is "busted". But all you have really shown is that it is hard to recreate, that you did not know of all of the preconditions or that you failed to create the preconditions. This does not *prove* that the event *never* happened. All you have proved is that *you* were unable to recreate it. Are you ever worried that your less educated viewers will confuse your "busting" a myth as proof that it is not possible?
  • Re:Favorites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @02:32PM (#14092675) Journal

    The only problem with it is that you're left with a salty residue on your beer can/bottle. The first few sips are salty unless you wipe it off.

    Can? I wasn't aware that real beer came in cans ;)

  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @02:56PM (#14092930)
    I've noticed that in the intro for the past couple of episodes, the members formerly known as "the build team" (Tory, Kari, and Grant) have received full recognition as co-Mythbusters. How come they aren't involved in this Ask Slashdot opportunity?

    Is it because Kari doesn't want to be bombarded with questions from creeps?
  • Re:Favorites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Manitcor ( 218753 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @03:03PM (#14092995) Homepage
    First I think you are underestiamting the size of such a fleet. The roman navy at one time was the largest Navy in the world. In 36BC after Sextus was defeated by Octavian, a war where it was said there were thousands of ships engauged, the roman navy still touted over 700 warships.

    Invading armies conquered by the 1000s. Assuming even a small fleet of 50 or so ships it would still be quite diffcult to catch anything on fire.

    Throwing out the device as aming and pointing with the movment of the sun would clearly be too diffcult to take out such a large numeber of ships takes us back to the infantry with polished shields theroy.

    A roman bow (depending on if it was infantry or calvery) range is between 130 and 300 meters. MITs best efforts with perfectly placed mirrors was 75feet.

    If you could get an army of 10,000 men to move thier shields to the right place at the right time and be able to ignite a hull from at least more than 130 (416 feet) to possibly more than 300 (984 feet) meters away at minimum. Considering the loss in heat and intensienty over distance Im sure you begin to see the inherint problems with this. Further the range assumes you can get that many infantry men to stand in a close enoungh configuration so that the overall distance between the edges of the array isint so far apart that those on the edges of the array are generally useless.

    Having the men in rows back to back would only work so far. Not to mention moving up and down poetentally miles of shoreline to cover the entire fleet.

    I dont doubt that arcemedies was a genuis and in every tale (be it truth, lie or myth) there is always a bit of truth. It would not surprise me at all to know that Acramedies did build a device like this, and that it may have even been succfuly used on one ship at the right range under the right conditions. If that was the myth then it would have been proven or at least listed as plausible. But the myth states this device destroying an entire roman fleet. Its the scale of the myth that makes it busted.
  • Re:Favorites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @04:46PM (#14094382) Journal
    my main gripe about the testing is they didn't test silver. Pure Silver Was what mirors were made of in ancient greece. Silver has a greater reflective index than any other Substance Period, inclulding modern aluminum backed mirrors.

    silver is expensive, i know, even if the shields were merely plated in silver it would have been a king's ransom to build an array of them... but it would also explain why no evidence of such an array survived outside of myths and stories...

    of course the conventional way to sink a fleet of ships would be to use greek fire tipped arrows, the fact that they left silver untested bothers me greatly... modern mirrors come close to what's possible with polished silver, but in terms of setting ships on fire 'close' isn't always 'close enough'
  • by surprise_audit ( 575743 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @01:32AM (#14098230)
    Another show they had to get a friend from the FBI to supply tracer rounds because they were 'illegal' in California.

    I was really surprised by the explanation given as to how the tracer rounds work. Phosphorus tips that ignite due to air friction?? Where did that come from?? When I was in school, the quartermaster in our Cadet Force took apart some tracer rounds to show us how they work. From the outside, they look like regular rounds, but once you pull the bullet from the casing you see that it's a bit longer than a normal bullet. The extra length is a hollow space that's filled with some kind of magnesium compound. When fired, the burning cordite sets fire to it.

    The net effect is that the shooter sees the bright magnesium flare at the back of the bullet, rather than the target seeing a burning tip getting bigger. That's not to say that the target wouldn't see the flare anyway, but tracer is mostly used for the shooter's benefit, not to terrify the target...

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