MacGyver Season 1 Episode 13 Science Notes: Large Blade

Tarp restraint

This is sort of like a straight jacket made out of a tarp and a belt. I wonder how long this would last—but it’s still a classic MacGyver hack. This blog would probably be better if I included pictures. Oh well.

Space blanket as chaff

A space blanket is basically a thin mylar sheet. It has a nice property in that it reflects infrared radiation. The idea is that you cover yourself with this and when your body radiates infrared light, it reflects it back to your body.

Can you use this as a countermeasure against a ground to air missile? Maybe. Of course there are two types of missiles. There is the heat seeking missile and the radar missile. For the heat seeking missile, it is guiding by the giant infrared source—the engine of the aircraft. It’s a least plausible that this space blanket could block the infrared light from the helicopter enough to confuse the missile. Possible.

If the missile is radar guided, then you can block the radar that comes out of the missile. This is the idea behind chaff (a real thing). It’s basically thin strips of metal that fall in the air behind an aircraft. The metal spreads out and can make a large radar reflection such that the missile thinks it’s a target.

Would a space blanket work? It’s possible. Really, you want metal—but this might work at least a little bit.

Splint and crutch from helicopter parts

Classic MacGyver stuff here. Nothing else to say.

Clean water from a tree

Can you get clean water from a tree? It seems like this is legitimate.

Dried wood as a desiccator 

This seems like a plausible way to dry out a wet phone. It would take some time though.

Swiss Army Knife as a signal mirror

MacGyver uses the blade on his knife to attempt to reflect sunlight towards a rescue helicopter. I’m pretty sure this would work.

As a side note—I’ve been thinking about the brightness of light reflected from a mirror (for another project). It seems like this is fairly difficult to calculate. Perhaps the best way is to just experimentally measure the brightness of reflected light. I guess I will do that at some point.

Tree sap and a battery to start a fire

If you want to use a battery to start a fire, you need an electrical conductor. This allows electric current to flow from one terminal of the battery to the other. It’s this electrical current that can make things get hot—hot enough to catch on fire.

So, the battery part is good. What about the tree sap? Yes—apparently, it is indeed a conductor. There you go, a fire.

Distance to lightning strikes

This is another reminder. I should write a post about how to estimate the distance to a storm. The short answer is that when lightning strikes it produces both light and sound. The light has a super high speed, but the sound is just fast (not super high fast). This means that the light gets to the observer first. By counting the time between the “flash” and the “boom” you can estimate the distance.

I thought I had already blogged about this—but I can’t find any such post.

Creating a homemade capacitor to store charge

Here is the short version: MacGyver makes a DIY electrical capacitor (a Leyden jar) to get some electrical charge from a lightning storm. He then uses this to power the satellite phone.

The Leyden jar is totally real. Honestly, I was surprised at how well this worked. Check it out.

Photo Google Photos

Also, I have a much longer blog post over at WIRED.

Finally, you can make something like this yourself.

Zipper as an wire

MacGyver uses the zipper to make a complete circuit from the battery to the sat phone. Would this work? It’s tough to say. In order to get an electric current, you need a closed circuit with a conductor the around the whole path.

Parts of a zipper are clearly conductors (the metal parts). However, if there are gaps between the metal, then it wouldn’t work. If you zip the zipper, there should be contact—at the very least, this is plausible.

MacGyver Season 3 Episode 7 Notes

Computer Recycling

This is unfortunately real.  There are places where all the old computer crap ends up and people try to get the good stuff out of them.  Here is a WIRED story.

I guess a more important issue—why do we throw away so much stuff?  Perhaps it’s just because we live in an era of rapid technology changes.  This means that computers can become outdated fairly fast.  It’s cheaper to just throw stuff away rather than deal with it properly.

Actually, at one point there was a student project that looked into the financial benefit of getting the useful stuff out of old electronic stuff—in particular the gold.  How do you get it out and is it worth the money?  I think the answer is no—you probably won’t make money by mining electronic stuff for gold.

Take apart a hard drive

This isn’t a hack from the show, but I just have to add a comment.  If you have an old hard drive, you should take it apart.  It might not be super easy since many of them have those stupid “security screws”—but still you should go for it.

There are two great things you can get out of a hard drive: awesome magnets and great mirrors.  The magnets are really what the hard drive is all about—using the magnets to make magnetic fields that write magnetic domains.

There isn’t really a mirror inside the hard drive, but in most cases the hard drive platters (the spinny thing that the data is written too) is super smooth.  So smooth that it works as a mirror.  Be careful.  Most of these platters are metal, but I did find one that was glass-like and shattered when I dropped it.  The metal ones make great mirrors though.

Toothbrush lock pick

Let me just say that I have a friend who is a locksmith.  After talking to him, it’s very clear that just about every lock can be picked.  It’s not even that hard.  Really, locks are more of a social contract than actual physical barriers.

If you want to try picking locks, there are plenty of guides online (and there is the classic MIT lock picking guide.  There are essentially two parts to lock picking.  First, you need to torque the lock cylinder with a torque wrench.  Second you need to jiggle the lock pins (inside the lock) up so that they get stuck up.  Then you can open the lock.

The toothbrush is just a quick quick to jiggle the pins up to open the lock.  I think I’m going to build one of these—you know, for research purposes.

Exploding toothbrush

Actually, I’m not sure what device is used here—but it looks like an electric toothbrush.  MacGyver takes the toothbrush and connects it to an AC power cord and then jams it in the lock.  It explodes.

Of course, it’s not the toothbrush that explodes, it’s the rechargeable battery.  Yes, these things can explode.  More on this later.

Microwave gun to disable cars

Here is the short version of this hack.  MacGyver is in the back of a dump truck with junk in it.  They are being chased by bad guys in military trucks.  OK, they aren’t bad guys—but they want to stop MacGyver.  Really, they are just doing their jobs, right?

OK, so MacGyver finds an old microwave and takes it apart.  He gets out the magnetron and then plugs it into the truck DC power supply.  This creates directed microwaves that he aims the microwaves at the trucks and they get disabled (with fire).

Is this real? Like most MacGyver hacks (but not all), it’s at least based on something real.  Yes, there are microwave guns that can disable a car – https://www.technologyreview.com/s/409039/stopping-cars-with-radiation/ These microwaves then screw up the electronics in the car.  I think it works by generating electric currents in the computers that melt tiny wires.  Well, it’s real anyway.

What about the microwave gun?  Yes, that is also real—I mean, you have one in your microwave.  Check out this microwave (real) gun from Allen Pan.

That dude is the real MacGyver.

High frequency sounds and younger humans

Some kids are being held captive by some adults.  MacGyver needs to send them a message—but he obviously doesn’t want the bad guys to hear it.  So, he hacks a tape record so that it plays a high frequency message.  Here is the deal: younger humans can detect sounds at much higher frequencies than adults can.  I think it has something to do with the frequency response of the ear-thingy (which probably has a technical name too).

Oh, what about hacking the tape player?  I think that it’s possible to record a message and then play it back at a higher frequency.  Really, all you need to do is speed up the motor that pulls the magnetic tape over the reader head.  I think that would do the trick.

Lithium battery bombs

Here is another hack that is unfortunately true.

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37255127

If I understand it correctly, it seems like there is some type of internal short in the battery that causes it to heat up.  When it gets hot, it gets more internal shorts and heats up even faster.  You get some type of runaway reaction and boom.  Bomb.

If you want to make tiny grenade like bombs out of these things, good luck.  It’s pretty tough to make them explode exactly when you want them to.  Oh, don’t do that anyway.