Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Three for the TV

I was just watching the latest episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, and realized I haven't mentioned how much I fucking love that show. (Sorry, the swearing wears off on ya!) So, here are three geeky science show every adult should like:
1) Penn and Teller: Bullshit! - The comedic geniuses/masters of illusion take on topics ranging from animal rights to sleep (the latest episode, which was great). Airs on Showtime, or though the usual non-legit channels. Not always the most accurate, and definitely not balanced, though surprisingly fair when it comes to air time, P&T:B! pulls opinions from professionals of the related fields and asks the tough questions.
2) Mythbusters - Airs on the Discovery Channel, and safe for the kids. Special effects masters take on urban legends to test their plausibility. The experiments are not always final, the methods rarely conventional, but overall the best resource of basic cable for examining how to approach a question, from hypothesis formation, expectations, resources, and execution.
3) Dexter - This HBO original is told from the perspective of a serial killer that works for the police department investigating serial killers. Wha? Geeky? Psychologically geeky, my friend! First, you are forced to take the perspective of the typical villain, and you end up LIKING him. Second, the internal dialogue filled with blunted affect (an understatement) provides an interesting analysis of the mental workings of the protagonist.

Honorable mention: Master Blasters - Two teams of old time, salt of the Earth style engineers get a rocketry related task, generally pretty complicated, and compete for your entertainment. I don't know how, but it just works. It's everything that Smash Lab (see below) isn't, though a very similar style. You see them working out equations, sketching ideas, and the payoff is always impressive.

Two shows to avoid:
Brainiac - Yes, it has "brain" in the title. Yes, they perform 'experiments'. The show is the ADHD younger and more immature brother of Mythbusters. Unfortunately, this younger brother also works in marketing and not science, and experienced massive head trauma sometime before writing the experimental outlines.

Smash Lab - One shot big-boom experiments by good looking hosts don't make up for the total lack of any sophistication in experiment design. You get the feeling they're going entirely on intuition, and the results are usually unimpressive. Smash Lab - Try to cause the least damage to be inflicted on a car when hit by a train by attaching something to the train (car totaled at the end of the show). Master Blasters - Launch a Mini Cooper using two jet booster engines through a footbal upright 250 meters away and land in the Mini Cooper sized bullseye (both accomplish it using different designs, one lands 4 feet from the bullseye).

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