Monday, March 23, 2009


I might like to make fun of the 80s, but that doesn't mean they didn't advance engineering or give us a few hours of entertainment every week.

Enter MacGyver, the TV show that bought ad hoc engineering to prime time. The titular engineer/secret agent/all-around nice guy traded his pocket protector and slide rule for a pocket knife, ballpoint pen, a paper clip, and more luck than rigged die. Every week, Mac outwitted would-be assassins, hypercapitalists, and even mother nature with nothing more than what the writers put in the room and an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from particle physics to hockey.

As much as engineers liked seeing what TV magic could do for their lowly profession, what they loved was identifying with the main character. Despite all his skills in hands-on hacking, Mac was never particularly talented at romance, could count his good friends on a finger, and after a long day of defeating bad guys, just wanted to come home and sleep on the couch.

Entertainment value aside, MacGyver gave back; more than just a TV show, it made an active effort to interest people in science. During the 80s, before Mythbusters, widespread cable TV, and YouTube, edutainment was relatively new. MacGyver brought real scientific principals to the public in a catchy package, but went even further and had Richard Dean Anderson appear on PBS to explain the physics of hockey. Remember that the next time you see CSI.

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