Me, Myself, and the Voices in My Head

A place to ramble and maybe make some sense about a thing or two.

Archive for the tag “Rube Goldberg”

Discovery’s Mythbusters: Duct Tape Island and Unchained Reaction episode 2

Yeah, I know.  I should have posted my reviews last night but I was really busy and the whole fence thing had me miffed.  Today it wasn’t any better as I found my decorative fencing around my precious morel mushrooms moved (looks like it was kicked), but I digress.

Last night was Discovery Channel’s night for the new season of Mythbusters and for the second episode of Unchained Reaction.  One was slightly impressive while the other was educational but way too hokey to believe.

I’ll start with Mythbusters: Duct Tape Island — a one-hour episode featuring only Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman as they attempt to survive on a desert island with only duct tape available to them.  I had a feeling the show was going to be silly because the announcer said they had “an endless supply” of it.  So, if you thought that the small pallet of duct tape that “washed-up” on the beach was all they had, think again.  And we all knew that they wouldn’t actually be in danger of starving or dehydrating because they had a camera crew with them.  It’s not like we’re watching Survivorman, y’all.

In the intro to the “story,” they show the outline of an island.  Anyone with basic U.S. geography skills would have immediately recognized the shape as the silhouette of Oahu, one of the Hawaiian Islands.  If you need more information, it’s the island where Honolulu and Pearl Harbor are located.  Oahu is definitely not deserted, but they were able to find a beach resort where they could film their show.

Oh, did I say “resort?”  Why, yes I did — and that’s an important thing to remember while reading the rest of this review (remember “Turtle Bay” and Lost).

So, the guys are “stranded” and have to figure out how to signal for help, find water, find food, make clothing, make a shelter, stay focused, and escape from the island.  Signaling for help was easy.  They created a huge “SOS” sign out of duct tape and rocks on the beach.  The down side to their attempt is that duct tape is gray and doesn’t reflect well when covered with sand, making it harder for someone overhead to see.

When they attempted to find water, they did stage a good explanation of how you can’t drink just any water you find lying around.  Jamie (the brains) and Adam (Captain ADD-man) were each given different tasks to find water.  Jamie used the shrink-wrap that covered the pallet of duct tape to make a solar still in order to collect water.  While it’s a good and scientific idea, a solar still would not make enough water for two people in a reasonable amount of time.  Evaporation and condensation takes a while and it wasn’t a plausible idea for them.  Adam, however, did find running fresh water and made a water-bag out of duct tape so he could return with potable water for them to enjoy.

Both of the guys created unique shoes using duct tape which made walking on the hot sand, grasses, and rocks more bearable.  Adam even made himself a hat since he is very susceptible to the rays of the sun on his fair skin, and so that people who are used to him wearing his Stetson while Jamie has his iconic beret (which was present) could tell them apart.

As for finding food, Jamie was rather ingenious and successful in spear fishing.  He used bamboo and wood shards to create a multi-pronged spear and even added a small duct tape retrieval string and marked the center of balance to make it easier for him to throw.  Once he got off the shore and into the water, he actually speared a small fish.  True, he’d need a lot more than that to feed both of them, but it was successful and fun to watch.  Adam, however, was running around in the jungle after feral chickens.  Realizing that he could not catch one on foot, he first tried a simple snare trap with duct tape “wire” (which didn’t work) and then made a net out of the duct tape with which to catch a passing chicken.  The first chicken “caught” escaped through a hole in the side but the second was successfully captured.  Then, Adam made the announcement that the chicken they would be seen eating in a later scene was store-bought and not the chicken he had just caught.  The part he didn’t explain is that feral chickens are protected as wildlife in Hawaii and cannot be captured without special permits/licenses.  And Jamie didn’t eat the fish he caught either.  Both sat on the beach with their duct tape bag of fried chicken and duct tape platter of raw tuna and discussed how proud they were of their hunting abilities.

Adam created a “permanent camp” out of duct tape with hammocks and even a small table and stools with a duct tape chess set (to help them stay focused).  It seemed odd that they’d try to make a “permanent camp” if they were trying to escape from the island, but it’s television and if you try to reason it out too much you’ll just give yourself a headache.  Jamie made himself a surfboard out of duct tape and took it for a quick float in the ocean (he wasn’t able to stand up on it).  Finally, the guys made an outrigger canoe that surprisingly weighed just over 100 pounds from bamboo and duct tape that carried them and their “6-week supply of rations” out into the ocean.  I was impressed that they were able to make it over the breaker waves without the boat twisting or sinking.  Jamie even noted that the only water he was having to bail was what Adam was sloshing into the boat with his poor rowing skills.  Finally, they “found land” and disembarked their canoe, only to find they were back on the same beach as before (cue comedic sound effects and rimshot).

And why wouldn’t they return to the same beach?  They never left it.  Well, except to sleep and eat and get refreshed before continuing the shooting for each of the seven days they were out there.  They did not sleep on their duct tape pads nor in their duct tape hammocks.  They stayed at the Turtle Bay Resort with the rest of the crew and used locations that were utilized in the filming of the show Lost.  That way, they knew where everything was and how easily to get their inventions built and useable.  In one of the outtakes Adam makes a comment that there are too many footprints in the sand for it to be a deserted island.  While it was fun to watch, it was quite disappointing to know that they weren’t really trying to survive at any point.  Sure, they showed how duct tape can work in many ways, but it still took all of the fun out of it.  I’m sure they did it that way because the insurance companies wouldn’t want Discovery losing two of their biggest stars.

And Discovery has used two of their biggest stars to hawk their new show Unchained Reaction.  I’m not sure how much of it really is/isn’t Adam and Jamie’s idea, but having them introduce the theme, pretending to watch the building of the chain-reaction gags, and then coming out to “judge” and announce the winner doesn’t really sell me that it’s their idea.  I wasn’t impressed with the premiere episode, but I thought I’d give the second one a chance.

In the “Fire and Ice” episode, a team of aerospace engineers went up against a team of special effects specialists.  They had to use fire and ice in their contraptions and had to have a minimum of five gags that would continuously set off the next as well as be innovative and entertaining.  Halfway through the build, Adam and Jamie “gave” each team a compact car that they had to incorporate into the middle of their machine and it all had to be completed within five days.

The aerospace engineers did some really neat things with the fire and ice and showing fire making steam and melted ice (water) conducting electricity after salt was added when it was tripped into a tank.  They even got the closest to a Rube Goldberg Machine concept because they stated that they wanted their machine to raise a flag at the end in a miniature moonscape diorama.  Sadly, the beginning of their machine didn’t work as planned but they did get the flag raised in the end, after nearly hitting Adam and Jamie and special guest judge Adam Sadowsky, president of Syyn Labs and creator of the Rube Goldberg machine for the OK Go video, with a rocket that flew across the room into a refrigerator to trigger the flag.

The special effects team didn’t get as technical but were a lot flashier with their contraption.  They used fire and ice in their gags as well as melting a huge block of ice in a cauldron of fire to turn a waterwheel underneath it to trigger another gag.  They had explosive results and it was a lot of fun to watch.  They won the contest because their machine worked and had no issues.

I think what I became the most tired of hearing throughout the show was how they were trying to impress Adam and Jamie.  It was always “Adam and Jamie would want” this and “Adam and Jamie think like” that but Adam and Jamie aren’t really in the show.  I’ll probably watch the next episode to see if the third time’s the charm on getting me to like it.  But at the moment, they could take Adam and Jamie out of it, make it about creating actual Rube Goldberg Machines (that have to complete a specific task) and it would be a lot more fun to watch.

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Discovery’s “Unchained Reaction” premiere – Meh…

When I heard that Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman were going to “sponsor” a new show on Discovery Channel, I figured that it would be entertaining and educational, just like Mythbusters.  I knew it couldn’t possibly be as good as Mythbusters because the guys weren’t going to be in the show.  They just present the task for the episode and “watch” until it’s time to judge the efforts.

Unchained Reaction at first sounded like an awesome idea because everyone enjoys seeing Rube Goldberg machines and even the Mythbusters had created one for the holiday season one year and showed how hard it can be to get it to work correctly.  However, the official definition of a Rube Goldberg machine is that it’s an overly complex invention used to perform a simple operation.  If you’ve ever played the board game Mousetrap, you’ve used a Rube Goldberg machine.  Many cartoons throughout the years have shown Rube Goldberg machines for everything from waking a sleeping person to peeling a banana.  They’re fun to see and even more fun to try to create in your mind.  Youngest Son keeps telling me he wants to make one.  I discourage him only because (1) he doesn’t really have a task for it to perform and (2) I’m afraid of the damage it will cause my house.

The new show, however, doesn’t give the teams a specific task to perform.  There’s a theme for the program — such as heavy-versus-light and fire-and-ice — but no ending operation that has to be completed.  That would make sense on why they don’t refer to the contraptions that are built as Rube Goldberg machines.  The teams are given five days and the same materials with which to make their contraptions.  When I saw the previews, I thought they’d be competing to see which could complete the task in the most inventive way.  They are judged on their inventiveness, but without the common task at the end, it’s just not as thrilling.  Well, it’s not as thrilling to me, anyway.

Rube Goldberg machines have become more and more popular recently.  As mentioned above, the Mythbusters completed a very complex one for their show.  The band OK Go made a music video that incorporated a large Rube Goldberg machine that assisted in playing some of the music and giving the “big finale” at the end.  Some companies are even putting them into their commercials as entertainment and to stimulate consideration of their product, as if they could design one then their product must be just as ingenious.

However, watching two groups trying to sift through a pile of junk to create a “machine” which doesn’t perform an actual operation other than to have one gag trigger another isn’t quite as interesting.  In the premiere episode, they paired-off a group of electrical engineers and a movie set/prop construction team.  Right from the beginning it was obvious who was going to win.  The winning team had the advantage of practical building experience, a firm understanding of what Jamie and Adam wanted to see, and the ability to work together.  (Hope I didn’t spoil it for you if you didn’t see it.)

Maybe the next episode will be better.  But if they can’t get them to have a reason for the machines or at least show more of the building and less talking about what Adam and Jamie are “watching” (it’s SO obvious they’re not “tuning-in” via their laptop), then I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch the whole series.  And that will be quite disappointing.

I’ll give it another shot next week.  For now, I’ll just look forward to the season premier of Mythbusters as they have their “Duct Tape Island” episode.

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